Civility Gets Smacked in the Mouth: ‘God of Carnage’ Opens September 19th at Silver Spring Stage by Lennie Magida

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If you’re looking for a laid-back get-together with easy-going friends, the foursome of Veronica, Michael, Annette, and Alan might not be your first choice. But if you’re eager for a couple of hours of riveting, smart, knife-edge-funny theatre, you couldn’t choose better companions.

Actors (L-R) Bob Harbaum, Alyssa Sanders, Lauren Kieler, and Andrew Greenleaf with Director Adam R. Adkins, right. Photo by  Pam Burks.
Actors (L-R) Bob Harbaum, Alyssa Sanders, Lauren Kieler, and Andrew Greenleaf with Director Adam R. Adkins, right. Photo by Pam Burks.

They’re the four characters in Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, and you can find them at Silver Spring Stage for four weekends beginning Friday, September 19, 2014.

Like Reza’s comedy Art, which won the Tony for best play in 1998, God of Carnage explores – lays bare, in fact – one of the playwright’s recurring themes: “Above all,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2011, “my plays are about people who are well-raised but who lose control of themselves.”

And is that ever the case in God of Carnage. The background is a playground encounter between two 11-year-old boys: Annette and Alan’s son has smacked Veronica and Michael’s son in the face with a stick and knocked out two of his teeth. The two upper-middle-class couples, who don’t know each other, have gathered at Veronica and Michael’s home to sort things out. Civilly, of course.

It does start that way. But soon enough, the shells of propriety crack, and the vitriol starts to flow. As Adam R. Adkins, director of the Silver Spring Stage production, explains, “These people seem nice. They care about their kids, they care about social issues. However, when that social veneer is stripped away, they become what some argue we all are deep down inside: Animals.”

Andrew Greenleaf, who portrays Alan and who off-stage is the father of three young children, suggests that “this devolution—from polite, conforming demeanor to temper tantrum—is part of the author’s point that even adults can get sucked into childlike behavior if pushed long enough.”

And when things go over the edge in God of Carnage? That, says Adkins, is “the fun part of the show.” This is, after all, a comic play—albeit one whose characters don’t see their situation as comic. It strikes a delicate balance between comedy and raw emotion, and its characters’ interplay undergoes frequent shifts. “The rhythm of God of Carnage is brilliantly outlined in the text, but it is also incredibly challenging,” says Adkins. “Alliances are formed and destroyed in a matter of lines.”

Standing, Alyssa Sanders and Bob Harbaum. Seated, Lauren Kieler and Andrew Greenleaf. Photo by Pam Burks.
Standing, Alyssa Sanders and Bob Harbaum. Seated, Lauren Kieler and Andrew Greenleaf. Photo by Pam Burks.

Bob Harbaum, who plays Michael, says that God of Carnage is by no means the comedy of “easy laughs,” of gags, setups, and punchlines. Rather, he says, it taps “a much deeper, possibly darker, harder-to-reach place. It has to do with the surprise of recognizing some deep truth about the human condition that audiences aren’t accustomed to having revealed to them.” Adds Lauren Kieler, who plays Annette, “You may feel a bit embarrassed or guilty about laughing but only because the characters say and do a lot of what people usually only think.”

Adkins and his actors agree that the stresses of outward success and parenthood have much to do with the characters’ depth of feeling. “This trying moment with their children and with other familial and worldly pressures comes to a head in this play,” says Alyssa Sanders, who plays Veronica. Adds Kieler, “The stakes are higher when people’s children are involved, so it doesn’t take much for things to escalate.”

For Greenleaf, the characters initially reminded him a bit too much of parents he’s seen at his kids’ school. But through the process of working with “terrific actors and a skilled director,” he says, “I started to understand more who these people really are and what motivates them. It’s really amazing to be a part of their discoveries.”

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God of Carnage plays from September 19-October 11, 2014 at Silver Spring Stage located in the Woodmoor Shopping Center – 10145 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD.

Performances are on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., plus Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. on September 28th and October 5th. Regular ticket price is $20, and can be purchased online. There are also a limited amount of $10 tickets available for select performances on Goldstar. There is also a Pay-What-You-Can preview on Thursday, September 18th, at 8 p.m.

The opening night performance will be followed by a reception to which all audience members are invited.