Gainesville’s Hippodrome Theatre opened its 39th season on August 31, with Yasmina Reza‘s 2009 Tony Award winning comedy God of Carnage. In addition to Best Play, the production won awards for Best Direction and Best Actress in a Play from the Tonys. Meanwhile in London, it won the equivalent of Broadway’s Tony, the Laurence Olivier Award for the Best New Comedy. It ran for almost 500 performances which is outstanding for a non-musical on the Broadway scene.
If you liked the French playwright Reza’s 1998 Tony Award winning Art, then you will probably love this play. Art had at least three productions in the North Florida area with the last just a couple of years ago at Players by the Sea.
God of Carnage is a hilarious frolic about what happens when grownups attempting to solve their children’s problems act like children themselves.
The play is set in a trendy Brooklyn home designed by Scenic Designer Mihai Ciupe which is notable for a pared-down elegance. The walls and furniture are in grays and creams, punctuated with abstract paintings in black, red, and orange, and a large vase of very red tulips.
The home belongs to Veronica and Michael Novak (Jessica Ires Morris & Benjamin Burdick), who have invited Annette and Alan Raleigh (Kim Mead & Tim Altmeyer) over so they can discuss a playground altercation between their sons, who are both eleven years old. The Raleigh’s Benjamin hit the Novak’s Henry in the mouth with a stick, knocking out two front teeth.
The discussion begins with the usual expected courtesies, including espresso, with both couples seemingly wanting to avoid confrontation – ah, but what fun would that be for 72 minutes (the length of this one-act play)? We are sure that everyone reading this has at some point observed parents going head to head over the activities of their children on the playground or at competitive events. When it comes to questions of right and wrong, it is just human nature for parents to deny any unjustified wrong-doing on the part of their offspring.
As they discuss the motives for the attack, the “carnage” enacted upon the Novak’s’ son grows to grand heights, and the Raleighs become increasingly defensive and assertively protective. We then see the gradual unraveling of whatever cool the couples had at the beginning of the evening, as they begin to verbally attack each other on a personal level, dragging in irrelevant issues. It does not help that Mr. Raleigh, an attorney, keeps getting cell phone calls and carries on lengthy business conversations without regard to the other people in the room. On the other hand, Mr. Novak’s mother calls to discuss her medical problems which he shares with everyone.
Both couples have martial issues that surface, and both marriages go boom right before our eyes as these supposedly intelligent and educated adults go at it tooth and nail. The play will remind you of Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf, as well as the film Lord of the Flies, where educated British children gradually degenerate into a savage horde.
Directed by Mary Hausch, the show is fast-paced and she has her superb actors exploring every nuance of this contemporary farce that revels in the foibles of middle-class parents. The intimate Hippodrome stage was perfect for this play enabling the audience to be up-close and personal. God of Carnage continues until September 25 at 23 SE 2nd Place in downtown Gainesville. Call for tickets at (352) 375-4477 or visit them on facebook.com/Hippodrometheatre or www.thehipp.org.