'God of Carnage' by Yasmina Reza. Translated by Christopher Hampton.
Presented by The Toronto Stage Company in association with MAD Resilience Films, Playing With Fire Productions, and Angelica Alejandro
Jon Chaters. Pictured: Jerrod W. Clegg and Amy Slattery.
A valiant attempt that sorely misunderstands the intent behind Christopher Hampton’s translation of French playwright Yasmina Reza.
I really wanted to admire this production of ‘God of Carnage’ now onstage until Sunday, May 28 at Mirvish’s CAA Theatre. I really did.
Even though I’ve been retired from the Ontario education system for six years, ‘Carnage’s’ acerbic commentary on familial issues and why children end up either as bullies or being bullied speaks volumes. What was the first thing I picked up during parent-teacher interviews? Children who are bullies usually have bullying parents. The opposite also holds true. Bullying parents may produce children who are reluctant to stand up for themselves.
Billed on the Mirvish website as a comedy of manners ‘without the manners’, ‘God of Carnage’ involves two Brooklyn, New York couples: Alan Raleigh (Luke Marty), his wife, Annette (Angelica Alejandro) and Michael Novak (Jarrod W. Clegg) and his wife, Veronica (Amy Slattery). The eleven-year-old sons of these two couples got into a fight on the school playground over one lad not being allowed to join the other lad’s gang. The parents have decided to meet each other and see if this matter can be resolved. Pleasantries are exchanged at first but soon alcohol gets mixed in. As the meeting goes on, the social niceties are removed, the gloves are off, and the same kind of treatment exhibited in the schoolyard becomes all too present here as the true nature of all four individuals is ultimately revealed.
The play opens in the upscale Brooklyn apartment of the Novaks where the two couples are in the process of discussing what happened between the two boys. There is no indication as to what time the Raleighs arrive. It’s assumed the meeting takes place midday because a reference is made to Annette bringing her son back to apologize to the Novak’s son later that evening. Annette’s husband Alan is a lawyer who continually answers calls on his cell phone that buzzes and interrupts the conversation. Alan refers to getting back to his office before his workday finishes.
This is where I first became confused.
There is no reference to a set designer in the program, but Jon Chaters is billed as Production Designer. The Novaks' apartment is spacious and fills the stage of the CAA Theatre and is accoutered with the various items found in a nicely decorated apartment. However, the living room windows open to the black wall at the back of the CAA Theatre. It looks as if it is nighttime outside. Where was Lighting Designer Mikael Kangas? Why didn’t he notice this issue? At one point one of the characters goes to the window and says he can see something outside. It’s pitch black out there when it’s supposed to be the afternoon. How could that character see anything?
As Director, Mark Datuin creates some interesting live on-stage visuals that show who is in power or control at any given moment. But the intent and reason behind the performances don’t measure up to these pictures created. Instead, I felt I was watching a film. The moment when Annette yanks her husband’s cell phone out of his hand should have been a grand comic moment before she decides what to do with it. What Annette ultimately does with the phone is quite funny.
The humour of that moment didn’t come across to me.
Although the actors wear microphones, I found myself leaning forward in my chair to hear Angelica Alejandro and Amy Slattery. It appears as if the ladies are simply performing to a camera rather than an audience sitting in front of them. Luke Marty and Jarrod W. Clegg inherently play to a larger audience. They notch up the tension more, but Alejandro and Slattery really don’t measure up to that level established by the men.
And that’s where this ‘God of Carnage’ falters. It is a play of ferocious barbs and stinging attacks flung back and forth between the four of them. By the end of the play, these four characters should be completely exhausted because they have behaved far worse than their sons. The audience should feel as exhausted as the characters do.
That didn’t happen here for me as well.
Final Comments: Unfortunately, Toronto Stage’s inconsistent adherence to maintaining the required intensity needed to propel ‘God of Carnage’s plot action forward runs out of steam about halfway through this opening night performance.
I do hope the creative team can perhaps look at certain moments again to re-ignite the spark required to make this play soar before it closes. The play has potential but this production deserves a clinical re-examination once again as a dramatic theatrical piece.
Running Time: approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
‘God of Carnage’ runs until Sunday, May 28 at the CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge Street, Toronto. For tickets, visit Mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333.
To learn more about The Toronto Stage Company visit their Facebook page or their website: torontostage.ca.
TORONTO STAGE COMPANY in association with MAD RESILIENCE FILMS, PLAYING WITH FIRE PRODUCTIONS, and Angelica Alejandro present:
‘God of Carnage’ by Yasmina Reza with translation by Christopher Hampton
Director: Mark Datuin
Projection Designer: Jon Chaters
Lighting Designer: Mikael Kangas
Costume Designer: Nola Chaters
Stager Manager: Milena Fera
Performers: Angelica Alejandro, Amy Slattery, Jarrod W. Clegg, Luke Marty