Though taking place inside just a single, unremarkable living room, this production of Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage” manages to keep its audience interested throughout its short run time. It is one long discussion that is stressful, awkward, funny and, above all, enjoyable.
Alan and Annette visit the home of Michael and Veronica to resolve a conflict between their two sons that occurred on the playground. Though at first civil and amiable, the conversation soon sours and unravels each characters’ polite facade. They talk of their children, their jobs, their pets, their marriages, history books – they talk a lot about things that should be boring.
With only four characters, one setting and no chance for action, it appeared that “God of Carnage” set itself up to bore its audience for an hour and some change, but AU Theatre did a great job infusing the play with life. The actors are in constant motion: Alan rises to take business calls throughout their visit, Veronica is up and about serving her clafouti and espresso, Annette rocks back and forth as she struggles with nausea and Michael paces around the room unsure of how to assert himself.
All this motion serves to capture the eye and keep the audience engaged with the characters and makes the most of the small and unchanging set. Scarcely an inch of the stage was not covered as the actors traipsed around it.
Paintings on the wall, history books on the coffee table, and tulips in a jar on a shelf, the set itself is the perfect playground for these adults to fight on as they stray further and further from their original goal of reconciling their children. It is just busy enough to draw the audience in and make it believable without being distracting, and the audience feels as if Alan and Annette really are intruding into Michael and Veronica’s home because of it.
Interestingly, it is not always the visitors, Alan and Annette, who feel like intruders. Each character has a turn in the limelight, a chance to be attacked or egged on, and watching alliances be built and crumble between the two pairs is one of the best parts of the play. While none of them are sympathetic characters, they are not off putting, and the audience is constantly waiting to see what will be said next. All four actors gave great performances to boot.
In particular, Carter Price as Alan could be genuinely mistaken for the stressed lawyer whose patronizing ways stem from his belief that all the events here are far beneath him and his business.
The play does overstay its welcome, much like Alan and Annette, but not by much. It has things to say about the decline of society, and it is going to say them at the risk of becoming tedious. Some may enjoy every extended minute of the play, but one or two of the arguments could have been cut. Luckily, the play is already fairly short, so it is tolerable and does not detract much. This is more a critique of Reza's script rather than of AU Theatre's performance, however.
“God of Carnage” is an entertaining look into how a few words can start breaking down relationships and how fragile civility is. Its only set is inviting and believable, giving the actors more than enough of a setting to let the stressful drama play out as it should, and the actors do a great job showing us hyperbolic caricatures of ourselves, at once humorous and thought provoking. AU Theatre can add another play to the list of productions they have knocked out of the park.