|From left, Erica Tatum, Bill Federspiel, Erinn Holm and Dave Ryan (on his cell phone) in "God of Carnage"|
review and photos by janet i. martineau
Beat line in the show at Pit and Balcony’s “God of Carnage” production: “Puking seems to have perked you up.”
Simply written and read here it does not seem all that funny, right? But coming out of the mouth of actor Bill Federspiel with all the sarcasm his voice can muster, and following what has just transpired on the stage, it is snorting funny. So funny you can easily slip into a giggling fit.
Which is to say, this comedy of bad manners -- translated into English by Christopher Hampton from the French original by Yasmina Reza -- is hilarious and hits close to the bone on behavior we’ve all been guilty of displaying,
The storyline: The son of Annette and Alan (Erinn Holm and Dave Ryan) has, in a school fight, knocked out the two front teeth of the son of Veronica and Michael (Erica Tatum and Federspiel).
|Erinn Holm in a fit of barfing|
Both couples are well to do, and are meeting at the tony home of Veronica and Michael, at their invitation, to try and work things out in a civil discourse. It all starts out well, but rapidly decays into a battle of wills which grows funnier and funnier and even more physical.
And it’s not just the one couple against the other either. The spouses often turn on each other. Nor it is just about the school fight and missing teeth -- in fact, it rarely is.
Brilliantly written, an innocent comment or physical action early on in the play will crop up later in another guise. Everything, even a word, is a prop. Among them: tulips, a cell phone and a land line, rum, a hamster, a picture frame, a blow dryer, names of endearment the two couples have for each other, a queasy stomach, superhero heroes, a purse.
The cell phone and land line are particularly funny. Ryan’s character is an attorney who is constantly answering his cellphone for long-winded business calls -- increasingly annoying the other three and even the audience (a wonderful lesson the play delivers are the rude use of cell phones).
As for the land line -- second funniest dialog of the show. The mother of Federspiel’s character calls frequently on it over medical problems. At one point in the show, when the two couples are going at it full tilt, it rings, Federspiel goes over to it, grabs the receiver in anger and barks into it, “Who the fuck is this! (pause) Oh, hello mother.”
While the script is a gold mine of lines and situations, it needs a cast who can deliver it with the body English and voice inflections required. Fine line between character and caricature. And it needs a director to keep it interesting since it is a one-set, conversational piece that runs 90 minutes without an intermission.
All four actors are delightful -- delivering characters we can love and hate at the same time, flawed ones but human too. They work as one, making it an ensemble piece, and their comedic (or anger) timing is spot on.
And director Robin Devereaux-Nelson keeps them moving -- often with false moves to leave by the visiting couple or another trip to the bar.
Another plus of the show is its gorgeous set designed by Suzy Reid and lavishly furnished. Not sure if it was intentional or not, but the couple whose son lost his teeth (supposedly the good couple),sit in red chairs while that bad couple with the loutish son occupy a black sofa.