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Wednesday, November 9,2011

War of words

The laughs are lacerating in wonderfully played ‘God of Carnage’

by UTE VON DER HEYDEN

Playwright Yasmina Reza calls her plays “a theater of
nerves.” What a perfect description of “God of Carnage,” her 2009 Tony
Award-winning play, running at the Creole Gallery in the capable hands
of Peppermint Creek Theatre Co. 


Originally written in French and translated by
Christopher Hampton, “Carnage” was a major success in Zürich, Paris,
London and New York. In bringing this hot property to Lansing,
Peppermint Creek artistic director Chad Badgero has once again
confirmed his impeccable instinct for the kind of inspired theater
that’s been paying off for local theatergoers for nine seasons.


The storyline of “Carnage” concerns two upper-middle
class Brooklyn couples that meet to discuss a playground altercation
between their 11-year-old sons, in which one of them has bashed the
other in a face with a stick, knocking out a couple of  teeth.


The evening starts in a “spirit of reconciliation,” but
it quickly degenerates into a raucous battle in which polite facades
and civilities collapse into violent verbal attacks and increasingly
nasty and startling “gotcha” tricks. The children’s fight fades into
the background as questions about the meaning of civilized society, the
nature of human beings and the desperately unhappy states of their
marriages take center stage.  


The parents are the self-righteous Veronica, a writer who
is working on a book about Darfur and goes around saying things like,
“I don’t see the point of existence without some kind of moral
conception of the world.” No wonder then that in the end it is she who
becomes most unhinged. Veronica is married to Michael, a self-made
wholesaler with a fear of rodents (there are some hilarious lines
involving a hamster). He also thinks that being “a fucking Neanderthal”
is not such a bad thing.


The other parents are Alan, a corporate lawyer chained to
his cell phone as he tries to deflect a major crisis for a
pharmaceutical client with a bad drug on the market. His wife, Annette,
simply describes herself as being in “wealth management” — and she
means her husband’s. 


“Carnage” is a play that demands that
all four actors be equally skilled. One weak note in this fascinating
quartet of dueling banjos might have been disastrous.


No worries there. Badgero has assembled a sterling cast
in Heather Lewis, Allan I. Ross, Blake Bowen and Shannon Rafferty. On
the solid foundation of Reza’s beautifully crafted and truthfully funny
script, these actors have the mastery to take you on a wild ride of
dark comedy theatre.


Lewis, in her eighth Peppermint Creek appearance, is at
the top of her game as Veronica. Her performance becomes increasingly
manic and physical as she flings her slender body across the stage
while hurling nasty insults at her guests and husband.


Ross, as Annette’s husband, Alan, makes his sleazy lawyer
and reluctant father (and husband) both recognizable and surprising at
the same time. Ross (a longtime City Pulse staff member) simply gets
better and better in every production.


Bowen and Rafferty are making their
Peppermint Creek debuts in this play, with Rafferty also a newcomer to
Michigan. We can only hope they stay around.  Bowen
is totally disarming as the complex, unhappy Michael, and Rafferty is
at once funny, sad and vulnerable as Annette. She embodies the
definition of natural comedienne.


In Paris, “Carnage” was performed in front of a concrete
wall split by a huge crack with animal howls being heard as the lights
went down. Peppermint Creek uses a blood-red living room wall panel as
a backdrop to what’s about to happen, and there’s no animal howling at
the end.


But the essential question posed by the play is the same:
Just as in the fictional “Carnage” characters, is there in each of us a
savage waiting to spring when we least expect it?   




’God of Carnage’


Through Nov. 12


Peppearmint Creek Theatre Co.


Creole Gallery, 1218 Turner St., Lansing


8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10; Friday, Nov. 11,  and Saturday, Nov. 12


$15 adults; $10 students and seniors.


(517) 372-0945


www.peppermintcreek.org

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