BY SANDY STAGGS
Two well to-do couples have a civil meeting to discuss an altercation that occurred earlier in the day between their two 11-year-old boys, Benjamin and Henry, which left the latter with two broken teeth. What follows in “God of Carnage,” now playing at Centre Stage in Greenville, is a disturbing roller-coaster of an evening performed by a marvelous cast, propel this dark comedy to a compelling and unexpected conclusion.
This Fringe Series production stars Dave LaPage, recent Best Actor winner at the SETC Community Theatre Festival in Mobile, Alabama, and Beth Hill Martin, as Michael and Veronica Novak, parents of the injured child, in a reunion of sorts after playing a married couple in last season’s “Death and the Maiden.”
Matthew Ballard, longtime performer at Spartanburg Little Theatre in his Centre Stage debut, and Lisa Sain Odom, who last appeared in “The Christians” and is the redhead in the local singing trio sensation The Blonde, The Brunette and the Redhead) are Alan and Annette Raleigh, parents of the alleged violent child.
The Novaks project the image of a model yuppie couple living in comfort: fresh Tulips, tea and pear and apple clafoutis dessert for their guests. Though on the set of “Red Herring,” a ramshackle, rustic dock, that aspect of their social status is diminished for the audience.
LaPage is dazzling in his acute characterization and fully-fleshed portrayal, and right off the bat within his first couple of lines. A simple roll of the eyes or arch in his eyebrow, immediately tells us Michael is a bit of goofball.
Ballard is convincing at the indifferent Alan, a corporate lawyer for the pharmaceutical industry and hands-off dad who chalks the incident up to a case of boys just being boys, and just wants to settle the matter quickly and get back to protecting his dubious clients. He spends much of the play taking business calls on his cell phone and later practices his golf swing.
And, Alan, a wholesaler, whose idea of manhood champions icons like John Wayne and Spartacus, concurs of manhood concurs, especially after finding out his son has a gang which he refused to allow his friend in, setting the course for the confrontation.
But it’s the ladies who won’t let the issue go. Veronica, an art lover who is writing a book on war atrocities in Darfur and is overly-protective of her precious coffee table arts books, is diplomatic when she interjects that her son has been “disfigured.”
Annette, played astutely by Odom as the perfect mother ran and wife who is in wealth management (meaning her husband’s), is at first super polite and apologetic about her son’s behavior. Of course, puking on the aforementioned art book changes that impression of her as does her assertion that the Novak child is partly to blame for the attack.
But as the evening progresses and the rum starts pouring, calm and measured gathering soon becomes an all-out emotion battle. Rifts in both marriages soon become evident and alliance shift from between the couple to men vs. the women and back again.
Playwright Yasmina Reza is known for her philosophical diatribes in her plays such as in “Art” (what constitutes art?), and in this work, she comments on the violence that humankind is capable of, from Michaels’s callous abandonment of a pet hamster to war in Darfur, war on the playground, and war in this upper middle class living room.
We’re not animals, an endearing Martin retorts at one point. But the human animal is indeed a beast. You can put lipstick on an animal, but it’s still an animal.
Kevin Treu returns to the directing chair for this production after starring in another Fringe play this season “The Christians.” Under his hand, this production is a swiftly-paced, nuanced, well-acted and crafted piece of drama. And by the end of the play the living room is in shambles with the carnage from the evening strewn about.
Stephanie Ibbotson is Stage Manager for this production
“God of Carnage” continues Tuesday and Wednesday, May 22-23 at Centre Stage, 501 River St, Greenville. Call (864) 233-6733 or visit http://www.centrestage.org.