Wednesday, May 2, 2012

God of Carnage - Belfry Theatre

Photo: Cast of God of Carnage at Belfry Theatre  (L to R, Bill Dow as Michael, Sarah Orenstein as Victoria, Vincent Gale as Alan, and Celine Stubel as Annette). Photo by David Cooper.


1. The final show of the Belfry season is French playwright Yasmina Reza's satirical comedy God of Carnage. Quite a popular play I understand?

Indeed! As with Reza’s earlier play Art, also produced at the Belfry, God of Carnage has been seen in Paris, London (where it won an Olivier for Best New Comedy), New York (where it won the Tony for Best New Play in 2009) and many other places. It’s playing right now at the Vancouver Playhouse, in fact, and is (sadly) that theatre’s final production. The play has been adapted into a film, Carnage, directed by Roman Polanski and featuring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz. I saw the play on Broadway a couple of years ago, with Jimmy Smits, Annie Potter, Christine Lahti and British actor Ken Stott. I’ve also seen the film, so I arrived at opening night on Thursday to see this play for the third time!

2. How did director Glynis Leyshon and her company tackle the play, compared to the other versions of it you've seen?

The Belfry production is a solid one, if directed with not with as much broad physical comedy as I see the play as having. This lack of restless, almost animal-like physicality sometimes slows the pace of the production down. The premise is that two upper middle class Brooklyn-based couples, strangers to each other, are meeting because one of their 11 year old sons has hit the other one’s son in the mouth with a stick at a park, breaking two of his teeth. The meeting is for these parents to agree on how to deal with what’s happened. Everything starts out very civilized and (of course) somewhat tense, but all four are on their best behavior. However, this ‘civilized’ response is soon seen as a thin veneer hiding all four characters’ true feelings about this incident, each other, their respective spouses and the world at large. By the end of this 90 minute one-act play we have witnessed this quartet of highly unsympathetic people broken down and more than one of them whimpering that this has been the worst day of their lives.  Along the way we see unbelievable mayhem break loose as signs that the world is really controlled, as obnoxious cell phone toting lawyer Alan attests to, by the God of Carnage, rather than a more hopeful vision of humanity triumphing over its basest desires and fears.  The play definitely sets out to skewer its middle class audiences and much of the resulting laughter is due to our recognition of aspects of ourselves revealed in the abhorrent, childish, selfish things of which we are all more than capable, under the right (or wrong) circumstances.

3. Any standout performances or particular moments to share?

Leyshon has cast the play very well with local favorite Celine Stubel, and a trio of exceptional Vancouver actors; Bill Dow as Michael, Vincent Gale as Alan and Sarah Orenstein as Victoria. All of these four fine actors have their moments, definitely, although I felt the women slightly outdid the men on opening night. Celine Stubel has such vulnerability as an actor that she almost makes us feel a bit of pity for her uptight and privileged character Annette. And Sarah Orenstein finds the right sense of moral outrage and political correctness in self-righteous wife and mother Victoria that no doubt many audience members will squirm in uncomfortable recognition. I would have liked to have seen a bit more overt class tension between the two husbands, as this was an effective element of the Broadway version I saw, with one husband clearly from a more ‘old money’ background and the other a man who has risen above his working class roots to success. That said, I have no doubt that all four characters will grow and that the company will find even more comic moments over the course of the one month run.
The show looks good with a simple yet effective set design by John Ferguson that gives us a very modern urban space with low slung couches and coffee table covered with art books. The large African sculpture given the focal point upstage signals the kind of primitive tribalism at work in the play’s theme, although I wonder if it perhaps signals a bit too much, nevermind in a pretty politically incorrect way? Overall, this is an entertaining, intelligent, if not profound, exploration of human weakness that will enjoy a strong run, I am sure.

4. The Belfry has announced their new season...what's your take on what's on offer for 2012-2013?

Well, it’s a mixed bag, to be sure, featuring a new British play, an adaptation of Dicken’s Christmas Carol, an Australian play and a locally created musical. I’m looking forward to seeing Red by John Logan, another show I’ve seen on Broadway and a fascinating portrait of artist Mark Rothko. I’m also intrigued by the play from Australia, Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Bovell, which promises to be a dramatic take on film noir. The new musical Let Me Call You Sweetheart, by local composers and musicians Bruce Ruddell and Bill Henderson, tackles a senior citizen’s memory loss, which is a very interesting focus for a musical, so that one grabs my interest as well. I have to admit to being less excited about the prospect of seeing A Christmas Carol as a mainstage production. I’m sure it will be a fine show, but my expectation at the Belfry is to see contemporary Canadian and international plays…I’d prefer to have Christmas Carol offered as an additional show over the holidays so perhaps a hot new Canadian play might have been programmed? That said, Shamata is bringing in a summer show starring blues singer Jackie Richardson, and a studio show from Quebec playwright Carole Frechette in the New Year, plus lots of great productions in the next Spark Festival, including a new play by Hannah Moscovitch. So, all in all, plenty to look forward to coming up next season in the heart of Fernwood.

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