Starring in "God of Carnage" are, from left, Tom Boland, Braunwyn Jackett, Jody O'Neil and Melenie Freedom Flynn.photo by JOSHUA ANDRUS
It is difficult to know who is having a better time during the Provincetown Theater's "God of Carnage" — the actors or the audience. The four roles in this comic living room "psycho drama" are challenging, with constant riposte and musical chairs-like movement, but, judging by the remarkable performances, as much fun as each actor has had in his or her stage career.
To its audience, "God of Carnage" strives to be a mirror. The viewers' enjoyment will depend on the reflection. Urban audiences may see a smug, insufferable, cliched likeness and they will laugh at themselves because to be offended shows a lack of self-awareness.
Other audiences will laugh at a distorted, fun house expression — oh, that's what Brooklynites* are — selfish, shallow and way too extroverted. (*The play originated in Paris and won an Olivier in London so no city is safe from God of Carnage's barbs).
City mouse or country mouse, the audience will respond in all the right places because no matter what you think of playwright Yasmina Reza's artistry, she can write comedy.
The play is essentially two couples who meet to discuss with civility a playground altercation between their sons. The individuals are easily categorized: Allan (Jody O'Neil), the corporate lawyer with the cellphone glued to his ear is married to Annette (Braunwyn Jackett), the blonde trophy wife. On the other side of the ring are Veronica, not Ronnie (Melenie Freedom Flynn), a bleeding heart, Save the World brunette partnered with Michael (Tom Boland), the designated "Neanderthal" who, just in case we mistake him for an effete, establishes very early on that he has set his daughter's hamster free of its cage in the middle of a Brooklyn street. "Honestly, I have no manners" he tells us, and it is redundant information.
Although most of the carnage is word-of-mouth, there is some physical mayhem as well, impressively choreographed by Mr. Carlson and performed by Ms. Flynn and Ms. Jackett, the latter's role, Annette, I suspect, is the playwright's favorite character here since she has to do the most heavy-lifting.
Let's put it this way: she experiences the only catharsis of the four characters, and I paraphrase Thornton Wilder in describing the now-famous scene in "God of Carnage" — Annette lets the eternal part of herself come out.
The couples attempt to rise above our current litigious society, and we are reminded why civil courts exist. Beautifully directed by Brian Carlson, the players duck like prizefighters against verbal jabs, "both ends against the middle" but the middle constantly changes: couples vs. couples, men vs. women, Spartacus vs. reality. Only Alan, the shark, leaves the pool with some dignity.
The set and lighting, designed by Mike Steers, conjures perfectly the home of the aspirational Brooklyn couple who host this particular disaster — suede gray walls with crisp white trim, lots of discordant art on the walls and one particularly effective painting of a little red house under a streetlight — reinforcing the spotlight on four people that we might not want to visit again, but we will certainly remember fondly. And at least we get a new recipe out of it.
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