By PAM HARBAUGH
A thin veneer of civility is all that separates two couples from their true blood thirsty selves in the Henegar Center’s emotional thrill ride production of “God of Carnage.”
Written by acclaimed French playwright Yasmina Reza, “God of Carnage” pits together two couples who meet in the artful, serene surrounds of an apartment in Brooklyn’s tony Cobble Hill neighborhood. Alan and Annette’s son has struck Michael an Veronica’s son, resulting in injury requiring dental surgery. As Ms. Reza did in her prize winning earlier play, “Art,” she shows how mannered courtesy can quickly slip and how the turn of a word can set off emotional fireworks. She won best play Tony Awards for both.
The Henegar’s cast bring to stage an exhilarating ride, filled with laughter and precise discomfort, as they lay bare their talons to rip into each other.
Holly McFarland is exquisitely on target as Veronica, the art lover control freak who strives to keep rare art books aligned properly on her coffee table and put her own precise spin on her mother-in-law’s recipe for Clafoutie (a baked dessert). Be sure to slice the pears thicker, she advises without being asked, because they cook fast than the apples.
As Michael, Aaron Karnes, a welcomed new face in Brevard’s theater scene, easily whips up his blue-collar character’s discomfort in being in such forced politeness. You can feel Michael’s immense relief taking off his argyle sweater and his sudden comfort when he discusses how toilets work.As Annette, Lauren Maleski (another face still with dewy freshness) has the bulk of the big stuff, but we’re not telling what. Just leave it that it borders on slapstick, and that’s okay because much of life borders on slapstick as well. She’s especially funny in her drunken accusation that Michael has killed a hamster named Mr. Cuddlepants.
Mark Blackledge keeps showing an impressive range on stage. Here, he brings considerable believability to Alan, an egotistical pharmaceutical company lawyer who is continually interrupted by business calls on his cell phone.
Although the meeting begins politely enough, accusations escalate, emotions ratchet up, and the foursome grow quickly fearsome. Invectives fly between couples then between husbands and wives. Making it especially entertaining is how real the characters seem and how easily you can identify with them. These are all people we know, people we interact with daily. And when the gloves come off, it’s a great catharsis.
The production is set in on a thrust stage (audience sits on three sides of the stage), in the intimate Upstairs at the Henegar’s venue, making the impact even more intense. Very nice visuals by scenic designer Brighid Reppert, costume designer Andrew Cline and lighting designer Joshua Huss, all of whom use touches of blood-red in their work.
This excellent dark comedy has taken a long time to appear in Brevard. Tickets are selling briskly. Opening night only had two unsold seats. Don’t hesitate. “God of Carnage” is a tasty bit of theater you won’t want to miss.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “God of Carnage” runs through March 1 at the Upstairs @ the Henegar, 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne. It performs 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $16 to $26. Call 321-723-8698 or visit www.Henegar.org.