By ALISON GABAY
God of Carnage, written by Yasmina Reza and directed by Anne Marie Cummings, opens with two pairs of parents trying to figure out the best way to deal with the recent altercation between their sons. After a playground argument between the two boys, the seemingly carefree parenting style of one family instantly clashes with the conservative parenting style of another. For the preview performance of the play, premiering at The Readers’ Theatre this weekend, Cummings, who is also the founder of theatre, used her home as the stage. The set, located in her small and intimate living room, consisted of a couch, two chairs and tulips. It was just the right size for the four actors to make the intimate story come alive.
Although the cast only had six rehearsals under their belt for this preview performance, they were able to perfectly translate the full-scale chaos that results when adults digress into the actions of their children.
At first, the show felt a little slow, which may be attributed to the unfinished quality of it — most actors were still on book for the preview. Mid-show, however, the play picked up and we were instantly attached to the lives of these two couples. The actors moved fluidly on stage, constantly pacing and taking us along for a ride as full-scale madness built to a climax. The cast made us feel like we were a part of the intimate moments — the rage, blackouts and the misogyny the couples experienced during one fateful afternoon. The discomfort the characters experienced was also heightened by the score created by Hank Roberts for this production.The flow of the music into each scene created effortless transitions and nicely complimented Reza’s writing.
Alan (Scott Whitham), one of the fathers, is the quintessential jerk who would rather make money and “think about the victims later.” His role as an absentee parent, glued to his phone and addicted to power, is well portrayed and instantly hated, which only increases as Whitham delivers lines like, “marriage is the most terrible ordeal God can put you through … marriage and children.”
The viewer can’t help but hate Alan and his wife Annette (Darcy Martin Rose) and side with Michael (Tim Perry) and Veronica (Cynthia Henderson). However, over time, the actors brilliantly make the audience switch sides, question what is right and feel for each of the characters that are so well portrayed by the cast. The dysfunction is set up so that moments of balance and mutual connection are immediately followed by full on chaos, as if the parents have turned into children themselves or never actually grew up. Whether the actors are yelling at one another, ripping tulips, smashing phones or crying over meaningless magazines, all in the confines of a tiny living room, one can’t help but get sucked into the world they have created.
After the performance, Rose said, “It is invigorating as an actor to be in a show where it ends in such chaos. The beginning is so structured and so formal and everyone is trying to say the polite thing. Then alcohol breaks down those walls, along with impatience, and it is fun to be at the end throwing things and cursing at one another.”
Henderson, especially, portrays a conflicted mother who wants to do what is morally right, and she instantly becomes the most childlike of all of the parents. She is able to deliver the raw emotion of a mother who desperately wants to be a loving parent, but can barely move past her own issues. One minute she is politely trying to figure out a way to help their sons reconcile and recognize the “right” thing to do, speaking quietly and meekly in order to plateau an already tense situation. Then, almost instantly, she is cursing, screaming and violently attacking other characters in a drunken stupor.
It’s hard to choose a side, and we quickly learn that you can’t. None of the characters are right. They are all flawed and childish, which is fun to watch but difficult to come to terms with when you see each character’s human elements. There are moments when they put the cloak of social and cultural responsibility back on and find a little empathy, and this only makes the characters more complex.
The Reader’s Theatre preview was a unique Ithaca experience, which will only get better as we approach the final product and premiere this weekend. Utilizing local actors and musicians, this production is one that should not be missed.
God of Carnage, presented by The Reader’s Theatre, will have performances from Nov. 15 -17 (Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 6:30 p.m.). For more information or to reserve tickets, go to www.thereaderstheatre.com.