As she did in 1998 “Art,” playwright Yasmina Reza continues her study of the brittleness in the social veneer. In “Art,” it was three friends who tore into each other over a white painting. Here, it is two couples who duke it out, not unlike the couples in Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
The play begins with Veronica and Michael Novak meeting Annette and Alan Raleigh to discuss the Raleigh’s 10-year old son hitting the Novak’s 10-year old son with a stick, resulting in two teeth being knocked out. They sit in the living room of a brownstone in genteel Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Coffee and clafouti are served. Interests are shared and talents lauded.
But, certainly, there will be carnage. We know that before curtain courtesy of the title and the buzz surrounding the play’s 2008 Tony Award winning Broadway debut starring James Gandolfini of “The Sopranos” fame. And then there are the impressionistic scenic, lighting and sound designs.
Director Mark Routhier takes a chance on those unusual production values and they work for this 75-minute non-stop dark comedy: Scenic designer Robbin Watts creates a scene in mid-explosion with red shards propelled away from the point of combustion; Kevin Griffin’s hot and cold lighting design pulsates subtly; beneath, sound designer Britt Sandusky creates what seems to be a low growl of steam.
In all, menace creeps. And then, the play begins.
The pitch-perfect cast features: Anne Hering, so good as Veronica Novak, a cultured woman fascinated by African social issues and the unsettling art of Francis Bacon; Mark Ferrera, natural and funny as Veronica’s “everyman” husband, Michael Novak, a successful purveyor of plumbing fixtures; Rus Blackwell, also excellent as Alan Raleigh, a Wall Street attorney more married to his cell phone than to his wife; and a sublime Suzanne O’Donnell, who brings to vivid life frenetic Annette Raleigh.
As layers of etiquette rip away, people vomit on art, physically attack each other, get drunk, destroy possessions and generally become the savages they claim their 10 year-olds are.
Yes, there are laughs throughout. I won’t be any more specific for fear that surprises will be ruined. But more than entertain, this play resonates with the question “Are we all doomed?”
Photo: Rus Blackwell, Suzanne O’Donnell and Anne Hering in “God of Carnage” at Orlando Shakespeare Theater, playing through November 13, 2011. orlandoshakes.org
SIDE O’ GRITS: “God of Carnage” runs through Nov. 13 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando. Curtain is 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Senior matinees Oct. 26, Nov. 2 and 9. $15 to $38. Call 407-447-1700 or visit www.orlandoshakes.org.