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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
God of Carnage

Children consume our lives and then destroy them. Children drag us toward disaster; it's unavoidable. When you see those laughing couples casting off into the sea of matrimony, you say to yourself, they have no idea, those poor things, they just have no idea they're happy. No one tells you anything when you start out. — Michael
Left to right – Ann Harada, Betsy Aidem, James Ludwig and Christopher Curry. (Photo credit: T. Charles Erickson)
There is plenty of the obligatory carnage afoot in the George Street Playhouse production of Yasmina Reza's international hit God of Carnage. Notwithstanding David Saint's meticulous direction, this minor comedy that nevertheless was the triple-crown award winner of the Tony, Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle in 2009, stirs ferocity into a farce with purposefully unsettling results. That I remain, after seeing the play for the third time (twice on Broadway) not nearly as amused by the contrived situation or by the incredulous behavior of the characters as are many in the audience leaves me something to ponder. I also expect that now that God of Carnage is making the rounds of regional theaters that it will exceed the popularity of Reza's previous hit comedy Art.

Presumably well served by Christopher Hampton's translation, Reza's comedy bristles for much of its seventy-five minutes with comically caustic dialogue. Much of the fun results from the team work of four excellent actors — Betsy Aidem, James Ludwig, Christopher Curry, Ann Harada — each of whom exhibit an impressive range of behavioral surprises.

The play, which takes place in the living room of an up-scale home in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill section, concerns a face-off of two sets of parents, each committed to standing up in support of and in defense of their son's physical confrontation in a school yard. A hot-shot lawyer Alan (Ludwig) and his cool and collected wife Annette (Harada) are paying a presumably civilized call on a successful blue-collar entrepreneur Michael (Curry) and his wife Veronica (Aidem), who collects and writes about art. During the ensuing visit, they each proceed to review the circumstances that led one boy to assault the other.

It doesn't take long, however, for tempers to flare and for everyone to lose their composure amid an increasingly ugly battle of words, sometimes hurled at a spouse. The tensions and accusations that are released more often than not peek into specific aspects of the marriages, airing personal and often petty grievances.

All cast members have been afforded a marvelous opportunity to make a case that either puts them more directly in harms way or reduces them to being less civilized than their original airs made them seem. Ludwig, who last appeared at George Street in Ctrl+Alt+Delete in 2003 and more recently played Lancelot in the original Broadway company of Monty Python's Spamalot, is terrific as Alan who attempts to stay in control of a business crisis on his cell phone while also addressing the legal angles of the potential law suit at hand.

Harada, who originated the role of Christmas Eve in Avenue Q, is always a joy to watch. She is especially so as Annette, a composed executive who, with hilarious results, loses her self control with the help of a bottle of rum and feelings of nausea. Theater veteran Curry is terrific as the initially conciliatory Michael who, when push comes to shove, delivers his own explosive rebuke to the situation. Aidem, who last appeared at George Street in Arthur Laurents' Jolson Sings Again, is seriously funny as Veronica, who, as the instigator of a full-out range of pent-up hostility among the others, decimates and contradicts her own liberal views on proper social behavior. That these four pretentiously civilized people manage to wreck emotional and physical havoc within designer James Youmans's black, white and red living room setting without damaging the impressive pseudo Louise Nevelson wall sculpture, is commendable and a hopeful sign that some boundaries to civilized behavior do exist.

Postscript: "A week ago I lost my best friend, " began David Saint in his opening night greeting to the audience. He was speaking about the passing of legendary theater playwright Arthur Laurents, who had been George Street's playwright-in-resident in recent years where many of his last plays premiered. Saint, who was in the midst of rehearsing God of Carnage, talked about visiting Laurents while he was gravely ill. "I want to be there on opening night," Saint recalled Laurents saying. He then raised his outstretched arms and (making an apology for taking a small liberty with a lyric from Gypsy) and with misty eyes spoke out with intensifying feeling, "Arthur, this one's for you. . .for you. . . for you."

God of Carnage
By Yasmina Reza (translated by Christopher Hampton)
Directed by David Saint

Cast: Betsy Aidem (Veronica Novak), James Ludwig (Alan Raleigh), Christopher Curry (Michael Novak), Ann Harada (Annette Raleigh)
Set Design: James Youmans
Costume Design: Michael McDonald
Lighting Design: Joe Saint
Sound Design: Christopher J. Bailey
Running Time: 1 hour 15 minutes no intermission
George Street Playhouse, 7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ
(732) 246 - 7717
Tickets: $29.00 - $67.50
Performances: Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Thursdays and Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m.
Opened 05/13/11
Ends 06/05/11
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 05/13/11
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