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Theater Review: “God Of Carnage"

Kudos to director Jessica Bird and her artistic and tech team: costume designer Elisa Benzoni, Blake McCarty’s sound design and Sherrice Mojgani’s lighting.
Photo credit:
Shaun Hagen

Why is it so much fun watching “civilized” people behave badly? We could debate the psychology for years, but it’s more fun just to watch the veneer peel off and the true “Neanderthal” nature come through.

A supremely entertaining example of this is Yasmina Reza’s Tony-winning short but increasingly vitriolic “God Of Carnage,” getting a terrific production through Nov. 13 at New Village Arts.

Alan (Manny Fernandes) and his wife Annette Raleigh (Kristianne Kurner) have come to the beautifully appointed home of Michael (Jeffrey Keith Jones) and Veronica Novak (Melissa Fernandes) to discuss how to handle a playground squabble between their 11-year-old sons that involved use of a stick and resulted in a swollen upper lip and dental problems of undetermined seriousness to Henry Novak.

Alan is an attorney, who will spend much of the evening distracted by cell phone calls (he’s trying to control the PR fallout for a pharma that has failed to advise of possibly life-threatening side effects of a drug).

His wife Annette is “in wealth management.” Their son Benjamin wielded the stick that injured Henry.

Michael is a wholesaler of household goods; Veronica writes about art, especially African art. Several lovely art books are on the coffee table.

The talk – over coffee and clafouti – starts out civilized, the Raleighs conceding that their son Benjamin acted like “a savage” and that the boys need to get together and work it out.

Annette starts out as the peacemaker, but loses her cool in direct proportion to the number of cell phone calls Alan feels compelled to take. Michael shocks the Raleighs by admitting that he dumped his 9-year-old daughter’s hamster out in a gutter because it was too noisy – and because he hated it.

The conversation soon breeds recriminations.

Then civility curdles, the masks come off and it becomes a free-for-all of blame.

The introduction of rum heightens the disagreements and brings shifting alliances – until Annette hurls all over one of Veronica’s prized art books. At that point all psyches are stripped to their “neanderthal” cores.

It’s a bit gross, but uncomfortably familiar and very funny as staged here, partly because of the contrast between the elegance of Kristen Flores’ black-and-white set and the baseness of human behavior on display.

Manny Fernandes as pharma lawyer Alan acts as catalyst for the quartet, seemingly so aloof with his concern about those phone calls that he causes wife Annette (Kurner) to turn on him.

Still, it’s Alan who calls the problem most accurately: “I believe in the god of carnage. He has ruled, uninterruptedly, since the dawn of time.”

Kurner’s money manager wife Annette does a wondrously amusing slow burn as she observes her husband seemingly displaying less interest in the kids’ situation than he is in his job problem.  

Jones, playing a bit against type as the admitted Neanderthal, does so with such gusto that he almost gives Melissa Fernandes’ Veronica encouragement for her wonderfully amusing meltdown.

Kudos to director Jessica Bird and her artistic and tech team: costume designer Elisa Benzoni, Blake McCarty’s sound design and Sherrice Mojgani’s lighting.

This quartet is not stuck in a Beckettian hostile environment; they’re in a cage of their own making. Maybe that’s why it’s so much fun to watch them.

The details

“God Of Carnage” plays through November 13, 2016 at New Village Arts, 2787 State Street, Carlsbad.

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (760) 433-3245 or www.newvillagearts.org