Review: God of Carnage by On The Verge

Veronica and Michael Novak have asked Annette and Alan Raleigh over to their house for a polite discussion about the playground squabble that ended with the Raleigh’s son knocking two teeth out of the Novak’s son’s mouth.

Adam Luckey as Alan Raleigh, and Lisa Thomas as Veronica Novak, during rehearsal for On the Verge's production of Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage. © Herald-Leader staff photo by Mark Cornelison.

Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

As Veronica is reading a statement of the incident in faux legalize, it’s obvious slouching Alan, lightly chewing on his knuckle, is barely tolerating this high-minded handling of boys being boys.

But will he be the one to take the first swing, hurl the first bare-knuckle insult? Is Veronica’s sophisticated veneer thinner than fine stationery and are her condescending words as blunt an instrument as the bamboo chute that was used on her son?

Those are questions Yasmina Reza explores over 90-minutes in God of Carnage, which opened on Friday (Nov. 11, 2011) for a two-weekend run in a production by On The Verge at the Downtown Arts Center. The production is a first for the itinerant troupe that has specialized in presenting site-specific works such as Lillian Hellman’s Little Foxes plays in historic homes and Jeffrey Hatcher’s Three Viewings in a funeral home.

This time around, there is a set, a fairly convincing pristine New York City apartment where Michael and Veronica take refuge from the barbaric world.

The twists in this production are that each role except Alan is double cast with several real life couples involved. So people with the time, money and interest to see more than one performance will see different takes on these distinct characters. Of course, you have to see the show more than once to really cash in on the gimmick. Otherwise, you will get the cast you get, which, in the case of Friday night’s cast was really good. We should note the three performers we did not see, Allie Darden, Bob Singleton and Kim Dixon, are all distinguished Lexington stage actors in their own rights.

But no one could have faulted director Ave Lawyer if she had just booked seven performances with Friday night’s cast either. Adam Luckey as Alan and Lisa Thomas both perfectly filled their roles as polar opposites in the play, and Paul Thomas as Michael and Tiffiney Baker as Annette also delivered strong performances.

Paul Thomas’ Michael is a critical character in conveying Reza’s concept that underneath our masks of civility lurk selfish, barbaric louts who are only interested in ourselves. He starts the play agreeing with everyone in an effort to get along, but we get the odd story of how the night before this meeting he took a hamster out of the house because it was bothering him and abandoned the cold frightened critter on a Brooklyn sidewalk. We soon find this incident was probably the most honest representation of Michael’s character, and everyone else’s true colors come out too in spates of violence that are surprising in the play’s environment, but never quite of the bare-knuckle variety.

The cast is uniformly skilled at giving us hints of their true natures at the outset and then letting them shine as revealed by incidents of onstage illness, the maddening constant interruption of Alan’s cell phone and a quickly disappearing bottle of rum – Paul Thomas and Baker were particularly adept at portraying the journey from toasty to trashed. There was one moment late in Friday’s performance where an awareness of the the ridiculousness of the situation did come over some members of the cast.

Resa’s well-honored script doesn’t quite have the same intensity or dept of, say, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. But it is a quick, entertaining night at the theater that will send you out thinking about the illusions we create and the monsters that lurk beneath.

Here are the casts for the remaining performances:

■ 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12: Lisa Thomas, Bob Singleton, Kim Dixon and Luckey.

■ 2 p.m. Nov. 13:: Lisa and Paul Thomas, Tiffiney Baker and Adam Luckey.

■ 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17: Lisa and Paul Thomas, Dixon and Luckey.

■ 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18: Allie Darden, ­Singleton, Baker and Luckey.

■ 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19: Darden, Singleton, Dixon and Luckey.

■ 2 p.m. Nov. 20: Darden, Paul Thomas, Baker and Luckey.

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