Theatre review: God of Carnage proves it’s not just the gods that are crazy

Helping to prove the phrase “the show must go on”, Vancouver Civic Theatres has stepped in to ensure God of Carnage sees the footlights of the Vancouver Playhouse following the recent demise of the theatre’s resident company.  I only wish the production was as worthy of its place in what will surely be a footnote in Vancouver’s theatre history.

Following a playground fight between their 11-year-old sons, the parents’ children meet to discuss and decide the best course of action in dealing with the aftermath.  As the afternoon progresses though, the Novaks’ pristine living room is slowly transformed from a place of civilized discourse into yet another playground fight (minus the missing teeth).

One of the biggest strengths of God of Carnage is in the constant pairing and re-pairing of the four characters by playwright Yasmina Reza.  At any given moment married couples are as quick to defend each other as they are to take the side of one of the other adults in the room.  This dynamic is fascinating to watch as each of the four inevitably begins to lose it, one quite literally.

In his decision to place more focus on the farcical nature of the gathering, director Miles Potter leaves behind some of the dark comedy, resulting in a show that seems a bit uneven.  The build-up to the alcohol-fuelled chaos of the end takes a lot of time and with a short 75 minute run-time it only emphasises the unevenness.  This also forced his actors to make entirely different decisions had they not been so over-the-top and it often forced them outside reality in their attempts to match the overall style.

The cast of The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre production of God of Carnage.  Photo by Bruce Monk.
The cast of The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre production of God of Carnage.  Photo by Bruce Monk.

Most successful here is John Cassini as the smarmy lawyer whose constant cell phone interruptions adds to the carnage.  Cassini’s indifference to the fight and the reason for the parent’s meeting is wonderfully controlled and hints of the different choices possible.  The ensemble (Cassini, Oliver Becker, Shauna Black and Vickie Papavs) was most successful when they were simply conversing, allowing the underlying absurdity of what was coming out of their mouths to speak the volumes.  Papavs does provide one of the most surprising pieces of business in a little bit of stage magic that should come with a warning lest members of the audience join her.

Set designer Gillian Gallow gives one of the biggest delights of the evening with her tastefully modern living room as if plucked directly from the pages of House and Home, and the perfect canvas for the carnage.

Perhaps not the piece of theatre I had hoped to mark the end of an era, I suppose there is some solace in knowing that it isn’t just the gods that are crazy.

3 Out of 5 Stars God of Carnage

By Yasmina Reza.  Translated by Christopher Hampton.  Directed by Miles Potter.  A Vancouver City Theatres presentation of a Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre production.  On stage at the Vancouver Playhouse through May 5, 2012.  Visit http://www.vancouverplayhouse.com for tickets and information.  Vancouver Civic Theatres has announced $20 rush seating available one hour prior to each performance.

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