Theatre Calgary's God of Carnage reveals the primal savage in all of us
Like most people, I like to think of myself as a civilized human being. After all, I’m law abiding, well-mannered and pleasant. But how far would I go to protect someone I love? I’m not a parent yet, but in the future when I have kids, I fully intend on doing whatever it takes to ensure they are respected, safe and have every opportunity to live up to their full potential. Theatre Calgary’s latest production, the 2009 Tony Award winner for Best Play, God of Carnage, reveals the protective inner primal instincts that live in all of us, especially parents. In addition, God of Carnage shows us how easy it is for us to lose our cool and succumb to our underlying frustrations and emotions.
Written by French playwrite Yasmina Reza and translated into English by Christopher Hampton, God of Carnage invites us into the living room of Veronica and Michael Novak, your average couple next door. Their 11-year-old son Henry was recently beaten up in the playground by another boy, Benjamin. Benjamin’s parents, Annette and Alan have paid Veronica and Michael a visit to apologize for their son’s behavior. However, what starts off as a nice, civilized meeting between two sets of parents soon dissolves into a hilarious, yet intriguingly compelling chaotic event where all niceties and social graces are thrown out the window.
What adds to the interest of the story, are the tremendous differences between each set of parents. Veronica researches and writes about African culture and her husband Michael owns a wholesale hardware store. Veronica seems like the type of person who is constantly concerned with doing the right thing and runs the show in her home. On the other side of the coin, Annette is the type of mom who wears stilettos and carries a Coach purse to parent meetings and her husband Alan is a cocky corporate lawyer who is always on his phone. As the evening progresses, all four individuals square off face to face, the dynamics between them constantly changing.
While the initial concern for this parent meeting may have been the children’s playground brawl, the meeting soon falls victim to a battle of the sexes, an inquisition regarding the fate of a hamster, the fight for control over a cell phone, lectures on good parenting and spousal skills, a vomiting fiasco, and then a drinking party! Throughout the course of action, we see full-grown parents assault each other, violently destroy flowers and vomit all over the stage. These parents mean business!
Helen Taylor and Doug Mckeag are adorably cute and sweet as Veronica and Michael. Meanwhile, Daniela Vlaskalic and Ryan Luhning are the sexy parents! In portraying the couple of Annette and Alan, Vlaskalic and Luhning get to wear sleek, stylish outfits and they’re exactly the kind of parents that everyone talks about in high school, when discussing fill in the blank’s hot mom or dad. Together, this sensational quartet of actors brings brilliant comedic life, timing and personality to their colourful roles and it’s quite a treat to watch them interact with each other.
Jan Alexandra Smith has done an excellent job directing this highly entertaining play, allowing the actors to naturally transform what started as a nice, pleasant living room into their own adult playground. Speaking of playgrounds, I also particularly enjoyed Patrick Du Wor’s set – the Novak’s living room was really fun to look at. It’s part contemporary, part retro (I know that’s an oxymoron) and offers ample space to serve as the adult playground. It truly added to the flavour of the play.
Theatre Calgary’s God of Carnage is a delightful spark of entertainment that will keep you chuckling long after you’ve left the Max Bell Theatre. After Theatre Calgary’s last presentation, the emotional and dramatic The Kite Runner, it was nice to have a breather with a bit of light-hearted entertainment. Variety is the spice of life! Ironically, the next book that I plan on reading, The Dinner, by Herman Koch, is also about two sets of parents who meet to discuss a problem involving their children. But apparently the plot is much darker!
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5