Behaving well gets you nowhere. Courtesy is a waste of time. In the end we’re all like children, bashing each other’s teeth in with sticks to settle our differences. Or that’s what Yasmina Reza would have us believe with her Tony Award-winning dramadey God of Carnage, now appearing at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre as the final production of the 52nd season. Directed by Greg Bell, this engaging socio-civilized drama devolves at an alarming rate into comic outbursts that truly capture human nature at its finest: debased, debauched, and debunked. A meeting between two amicable couples of their children’s squabbles should be a relatively easy thing to tackle in the time frame of an evening, but when the truth gets to rearing its ugly head and the booze starts flowing…well, are adults really any better than the children they’ve reared? Only one way to find out.
Resident Set Designer and Scenic Artist Alan Zemla brings all the esoteric eccentricities of the Novak household into view in his creation of the home’s interior. A unique and simultaneously pleasing choice of adding the son’s bedroom to the visible set helps create a presence of childishness in the house for a character who is never seen, only mentioned. Zemla makes use of one of the corner spaces in this manner and his attention to detail in this and all of the ‘rooms’ is fascinating. Right down to the Muppet poster and Animal doll does he capture the personality of this growing preteen. Zemla’s focus on minutia in the set— like the zebra marbling pattern on the columns and the placement of various African decorations— captures the quirky nature of the Novak family, allowing the scene to augment their curious characters.
At times the play does have pacing issues. Director Greg Bell has crafted pauses into the play in hopes of sprouting moments of dramatic tension. Unfortunately, due to the nature in which these pauses are executed and the places in which they occur, it often ends up feeling as if the actors have temporarily misplaced their lines rather than stirring a sense of awkward uncertainty among those present. These minor momentum issues aside, Bell manages to achieve quite a dynamic with his quartet of performers. His approach to the ‘special effects’ in the production are also impressive as there is no way to “cheat” in the round space.
The actors have a well-balanced chemistry among them as they dynamic shifts. At first the quartet is split down the marital line; Michael (Michael Tan) and Veronica (Holly E. Gibbs) uniting forces as the married couple whose home plays host to the performance, and Alan (Dan Collins) and Annette (Margaret Condon) as the visiting couple. With allied chemistry between Tan and Gibbs, and Collins and Condon respectively the performance starts out on an even note, quickly devolving into comic shenanigans, heavy moments of clipped, albeit articulated, emotional eruption, and overall pandemonium as the proverbial shit hits the fan.
Collins, as the smarmy, cocky, and rather preoccupied father, finds a great deal of his character’s focus in his stature and overall physical approach to the character. His cell phone is as important as an appendage to his character and his secondhand nature to pay it more attention than conversations or his scene partners really builds tension in scenes when necessary. The way Collins straddles the divide of siding with his wife versus siding with Tan— the other male character— is an interesting juxtaposition of spousal verses gender loyalty. His main focus being himself, Collins does the character a great service in making him laughable and dislikeable all in one breath.
Tan, as the rapidly deteriorating father of society, falls into his Neanderthal behavior quite quickly. Starting out as a polished half of the marriage between his character and Gibbs’, Tan delivers a solidly diverse performance as he arcs from composed to asunder during the duration of the show. His sharp lines cut hard when delivered in frustration or anger, and the volatile chemistry that erupts between him and Gibbs creates some of the most amusing moments in the performance.
Gibbs takes her character up onto a proverbial soapbox and rarely comes down from that post. It is wildly entertaining to watch Gibbs attempt to restrain her character’s reactions to these trying situations, each one more tiresome than the last exerted effort until finally she erupts into a whirlwind of words and gestures. True to the character’s nature, every time Gibbs fights a point, she fights it whole-heartedly, delivering each argumentative moment with gusto and vigor. When making allegiance with Condon’s character, the women band together in a hilarious series of moments that speaks volumes to all women who have ever had problems with their significant others.
Condon develops a thoroughly entertaining character; a true nervous Nelly right from the onset. With tremulous clutching gestures and facial expressions that barely contain her exasperation at nearly every situation that affects her, she really expresses her understanding of the pretentious mother of the assailant. Even her drunken moments, swaggering about and slightly slurring her speech, becomes a point of amusement, carrying the layers of the conceptual subtext that much further in the performance.
Spotlighters’ God of Carnage is an impressive production and well worth the trip to see this talented cast in this intimate space.
Running Time: Approximately 95 minutes, with no intermission
God of Carnage plays through July 27, 2014 at The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre— 817 N. Saint Paul Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 752-1225, or purchase them online.