“What I am – what I have always been – is a fucking Neanderthal.” — Michael Novak
For the next few weeks, audiences at Belfry Theatre will erupt with laughter as they encounter Yasmin Reza’s God of Carnage. Director Glynis Leyshon’s production weaves the inspired lunacy of Fawlty Towers with the ferocity of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
As one arrives in the theatre space, the living room of a “Bobo” couple sits vacant. Author and journalist David Brooks first coined the term as a portmanteau of “bourgeois” and “bohemian.” The set of God of Carnage exemplifies Bobo chic. A minimalist white sectional sofa surrounds a coffee table with books of art. Designer John Ferguson provides a strong bohemian touch (not included in Reza’s script, which is lean on stage directions): a wooden African statue, presumably of some pagan deity, sits upstage centre. The walls, upstage left and right, resemble the black obsidian of a temple and reflect the action. Together, modern and ancient bristle against each other, providing the arena for the play’s combatants.
And fight they do. At the house of Michael and Veronica Novak (Bill Dow and Sarah Orenstein), Alan and Annette Raleigh (Vincent Gale and Celine Stubel) have come calling. It appears that young Raleigh has hit young Novak about the face with a stick. Initially, the couples seek to negotiate a civilized peace over the actions of their 11-year-old sons. Before long, the ringside bell is rung and verbal jabs fly. Fuelled by Bobo-grade rum, a ritual of release belches forth as our challengers drop their civilized facades and have at it.
Anger is a difficult emotion to play well on stage. Too often it hits the same note again and again. The cast of God of Carnage treat us to four very different shades of anger, rooted in believable emotion. Dow’s Michael Novak embodies a well-trained pit bull, domesticated but to a point. He grins, he barks, he makes nice only to bark again, enjoying the chaos. Gale’s Alan Raleigh, a high-profile lawyer, has a lean and hungry look. He skips meals, running on ambition. Head cowed, Gale allows his character to play the “Yeah, me, too!” beta-male to Dow’s alpha.
Our female leads, though, provide performances that approach the virtuosic. Both Orenstein (playing Veronica Novak) and Stubel (playing Annette Raleigh) begin the play as demure. Their speech halts and stutters, trying to find the right word, the correct thing to say. As “hell is unleashed,” words and emotions pour out, are stifled, gush, only to be suppressed again. Finally, Orenstein uncorks a less-than-civilized banshee as Stubel spews girlish tantrums like some shit-faced fairy.
Leyshon blocks the movement of her actors with the finesse of a choreographer. God of Carnage has moments of pure slapstick. Also, interesting choices are made regarding the rhythm of the play. Pinter-like pauses keep the comedy from speeding out of control, and heighten moments of tension. A hair dryer appears in a supporting role, as does a cell phone. Costumes are Bobo, right down to Annette Raleigh’s red-soled Louboutins. Finally, avoiding spoilers, the play features a moment of Pythonesque grotesquerie. I still don’t know how Belfy did it, but I’d hate to be the theatre’s carpet cleaner.
Spring is here, and Belfry Theatre’s production of God of Carnage provides a vicarious release for the “fucking Neanderthal” in all of us.
God of Carnage
by Tasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Glynis Leyshon
with Bill Dow (Michael Novak), Vincent Gale (Alan Raleigh), Sarah Orenstein (Veronica Novak) and Celine Stubel (Annette Raleigh)
Designer: John Ferguson
Lighting Designer: Guy Simard
Sound Designer: Brian Linds
Running Time: 85 minutes with no intermission
Belfry Theatre, 1291 Gladstone Avenue
April 17 – May 20, 2012
Review based on 19/04/2012 performance
By Brent Schaus