Parents Act Like Children in Flat Rock Playhouse’s Black Box Production
BY STEVE WONG
When you open the cage and let out a domesticated animal into the wild, it might adapt to survive, get eaten by a bigger animal, or become vicious — as do the characters in God of Carnage that is playing at Flat Rock Playhouse Sept. 15-Oct. 9, as part of its new black box series.
Throughout this Tony-winning Broadway play, we were reminded repeatedly that one of the four parents of 11-year-old sons had released a noisy hamster on the streets of Brooklyn, NY. He is the father of the son who was hit in the mouth with a stick wielded by the other son, and he was at his wit’s end about his son’s two broken teeth. The pet hamster’s incessant scratching was just too much, on top of a crying kid and distraught wife. Now, his wife and the parents of the other kid are chastising him, each with a different perspective on appropriate social behavior and responsible pet ownership.
But are they really talking about a hamster in between their growing verbal and quasi-physical attacks on each other? Keep in mind this play is technically a comedy.
Through subtle writing and great acting Flat Rock Playhouse and four actors presented a knockout production of a play filled with rancor, psychological warfare, and vomit. The four-sided setting on a raised wooden platform was the perfect living room of upper-middle class urbanites. The room was oddly symmetrical with chairs in the four corners, surrounding a coffee table with a vase of bright red tulips in water: one might be reminded of a tag-team boxing ring. The leopard- and tiger-print chair upholstery was a nice touch and nod to the eat-or-be-eaten drama by the two sets of bickering parents.
Like civilized people, the parents had come together to discuss what should be done in the wake of the boys’ fight. It seems that Henry, son of Michael and Annette, was hit in the mouth by Benjamin, son of Alan and Veronica. It all started when Henry was denied entrance into Benjamin’s gang. Try as they might to play nice, the parents quickly tear into each other in defense of their sons and quickly veer off course into chaotic personal assaults. We never see the sons, but we see some pretty ugly true colors of the parents, each vying to be right. The parental conference starts out politely enough, but soon all hell breaks loose in unveiling tit-for-tat insults and threats. When the ladies pull back their hair and get down on all fours, you know what is about to hit the fan.
Veteran Playhouse Vagabond Scott Treadway played Michael (the hamster releaser) and Marcy McGuigan played Veronica: the parents of the victim. The hitter’s parents were played by Brendan Powers as Alan and Rachel Burttram as Annette. Michael is a self-made man in the wholesale business, and Veronica is a writer with high social order standards. Alan is an attorney, who is constantly on his cellphone with a corporate client, and Annette works in (her husband’s) wealth management. It was critical that each character be highly identifiable by his or her personality quirks, and the French playwright Yasmina Reza was at her best quickly building the personalities throughout the play. Director Lisa K. Bryant is commended for pacing that development with exceptional care.
As the conversation grows evermore testy, Annette seems to be the possible peacemaker — that is until she has a panic attack and vomits on Veronica’s collector-quality book. All things considered, the projectile vomiting was a shocker, as we the audience watched it hit a mirror and run down the walls onto a decorative table. The threat of a second sprew was always present, but Annette regained her footage and went on the fuss tooth and nail with the other three parents.
But the hostilities were not limited to parents against parents: At times, the men sided against the women, the women against each other, and the men against each other. After too much rum, a couple of temper tantrums, and a cellphone drowning in the flower vase, no conclusion is drawn — other than they just unhappily petered out. There’s nothing like a mixture of philosophical and petty augments gone wild to end with simple exhaustion of everyone — including the audience.
God of Carnage was first produced in 2008 in London’s West End. It was widely acclaimed and received the Olivier Award for Best New Play. In 2009, the play went to Broadway and ran for a year. It closed in 2010 with 452 performances and received Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Actress, and Best Director. In 2011, it was adapted for film under the title Carnage.
God of Carnage is one of two plays presented in Flat Rock Playhouse’s Black Box series, which also included Blood Knot, a very serious play about siblings and race. The Playhouse built a raised stage on the main stage and arranged chairs on all four sides for 360 viewing. I do hope the Playhouse continues to offer such intense and insightful plays in the future, giving its audiences a wider choice of live theatre options
God of Carnage continues at Flat Rock Playhouse in Flat Rock, NC through Oct. 8 and Blood Knot continues through Oct. 9. More info at flatrockplayhouse.org. Mamma Mia! Runs Oct. 21-Nov. 13.