Last Spring, I was in a car headed to Winona, my alma mater, for a fun weekend with some friends. While sitting in the passenger seat, I was scrolling through Facebook to see the release of Lyric Art’s new 2018-2019 season and I squealed with delight to see two of my absolute favorite shows being produced by them. The first is Evita, which will appear on their stage in March of 2019, and the second is the play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza. This is a knock out play and, in my mind, the perfect one. It’s a quick 90-minute dark comedy – shout out to Lyric Arts for starting exactly at 7:30 and ending exactly at 9 p.m. – that won the 2009 Tony Award for Best Play and was adapted for the big screen in 2011 starring Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly and Kate Winslet.
God of Carnage is the story about two sets of parents who come together after one of their children “armed with a stick” injures the other. These two eleven-year old boys set off a chain reaction as their parents meet for what would normally be a civil conversation about how to move forward. Veronica and Michael Novak, the parents of the injured, follow a life of love and harmony while Annette and Alan Raleigh are a bit more conservative with demanding corporate jobs. As the evening continues, awkward silences turn into full out arguments and the family sides shift with a variety of other quarrels.
It’s no wonder that this show was an absolute hoot. Anything with Scott Ford’s name on it is instantly great in my book. Ford’s staging, elevated by Brian Proball and Joe Black’s scenic design, is wonderful with the constant struggle of what starts as parents against parents until various groups of three gang up on one and so on and so forth. Also, Ford is not afraid of silence and allows this brilliant four person cast to enjoy the silent moments with awkward space filling laughs that we all know too well. With an outstanding pace, the show faces a consistent uphill climb as silent moments of tension become full out moments of anger with plenty of yelling and even a few physical moments. I also found it clever that as the characters slowly stripped away each layer of decency and civility – in terms of their manners – they slowly removed pieces of their costumes.
The cast reunites familiar faces including Bill Williamson, who plays Alan Raleigh, and Don Maloney, who plays Michael Novak. Williamson and Maloney starred a few years ago in the Lyric Arts production of The Odd Couple which is perfect enough reasoning to cast them as these two roles. Their on-stage chemistry is on fire with comedic bits and just the energy they bring. Maloney was the first one to really crack under the pressure and his freak out moments had me rolling with laughter. Katie Wodele’s performance is masterful as Veronica Novak. She perfectly creates the tension of a woman who tries to bring harmony to situations until she finally breaks under societies pressure to always be fair, nice and honest. Jamie Jachimiec as Annette Raleigh probably goes through the biggest transformation as she is quieter than the other three but eventually goes through a drunken state and is not afraid to punch back. While each and every actor is superb in their own way, they really do create an amazing symbiotic relationship as a quartet of actors.
God of Carnage really is a brilliantly written play, as I’ve said it’s my favorite, because the nature in which it’s written. Reza has you on the edge of your seat through the whole 90 minutes but in a variety of different ways. In the beginning it’s that feeling of painfully second-hand embarrassment you feel because of the awkward laughs and glances between each actor. As the show progresses, audiences feel even more on edge because you don’t know what is going to be said next by each performer.
God of Carnage runs at Lyric Arts now through Oct. 28 and should not be missed.