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Photo by Sean Carter Photography. Paul Stroili and Michelle Mountain

By Crystal Hayduk

Maybe the Purple Rose Theatre Company (PRTC) should install seat belts so theatre-goers can buckle up for a wild ride when the stage goes black and the actors take their places for the dark comedy, “God of Carnage.”

With a 70-minute run time and no intermission to suspend the performers’ energy and rapid-fire dialogue, it feels like a theatrical version of a bumpy fun house ride.

The play takes place in present day Brooklyn, New York. The living room set is replete with clean lines and angles – and books. We soon discover that the woman of the house, Veronica (Michelle Mountain), is a writer who has just completed a book on Darfur. Her husband, Michael (Paul Stroili), is a wholesaler with an ailing mother.

High-powered, workaholic Alan (Rusty Mewha), an attorney, and his well-dressed wife, Annette (Kate Thomsen), who says she is in “wealth management,” have been invited to discuss the two couples’ 11-year-old sons who had a playground fight.

From the beginning of the play until the final blackout, the audience is engaged and laughing. The serious nature of the boys’ conflict and the distressing manner in which the parents attempt to resolve the trouble don’t detract from the humor – possibly due to a sort of twisted gloating that presumes superiority to the stage families.

What begins as a polite encounter quickly turns cruel and eventually violent. Alliances change from moment to moment, adding to the suspense.

Photo by Sean Carter Photography. (Left to right) Rusty Mewha, Kate Thomsen, Michelle Mountain, and Paul Stroili

All four cast members have outdone themselves with stellar performances that reveal much about their characters. Mewha’s briskly delivered lines and deadpan countenance, Thomsen’s surprise physicality, Stroili’s ability to sell himself with two distinct personas, and Mountain’s emotional depth and strength work together to execute a memorable show.  

Just as the characters viewed their sons’ fight differently, audience members may leave “God of Carnage” with various impressions. My husband simply said it was totally hilarious and entertaining – holding his rapt attention even on a Friday evening, his most tired time of the week.

When the house lights came up, I sat motionless in my seat. “God of Carnage” had given me the most sustained laughter I had experienced in a long time. Yet as funny as it was, it was also a powerful statement on humanity – or lack thereof. It reminded me of the phrase written by the poet Robert Burns: “Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.”

Although Veronica was recognized as a committed problem-solver, she was not above stooping to join the fray. And as insightful as she was about her children’s feelings, she seemed relatively clueless about the feelings of her spouse.

I left “God of Carnage” thinking that as we continue to face divisiveness in our country and throughout the world, (which historically has happened time and time again) we would do well to commit to hearts of real understanding for our fellow man – starting in our own homes as well as in our communities – rather than just paying it lip service.

“God of Carnage,” by the French writer Yasmina Reza, is a humorous and thought-provoking award-winning play that has been performed around the world, showing that the human condition is the same in any language.

Note: this production contains adult language and is recommended for high school age and up.

“God of Carnage”

What: Tony Award winner in 2009 for Best Play, Best Actress (Marcia Gay Harden), and Best Director (Matthew Warchus); nominated for Best Actor (Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini) and Best Actress (Hope Davis).

When: Now playing through Dec. 16; six performances a week – evenings and matinees. See schedule here ). 

Where: The Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park St., Chelsea

Playwright: Yasmina Reza

Translator: Christopher Hampton

Director: Lauren Knox

Cast: Rusty Mewha, Michelle Mountain, Paul Stroili, Kate Thomsen

Crew: Design includes set by Bartley Bauer, properties by Danna Segrest, costumes by Shelby Newport, lighting by Dana White, and sound by Tom Whalen. Stage manager – Angie Kane Ferrante; artistic director – Guy Sanville; managing director – Katie Hubbard.

Tickets: Available at www.purplerosetheatre.org or by calling the box office at 734-433-7673.

About the Purple Rose Theatre Company: Founded in 1991 by actor, playwright, musician and Chelsea native Jeff Daniels, the Purple Rose Theatre Company is a creative home for original American plays. In the 168-seat theater, patrons experience an intimate encounter with live theater.

Photo by Sean Carter Photography. (Left to right) Paul Stroili, Kate Thomsen, and Rusty Mewha

 

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One Response to “Purple Rose Theatre’s play ‘God of Carnage’ hilarious look at attempted civility”

  1. Julia Strimer says:

    What a well-written review! Thanks, Crystal. I’m glad you included this:

    “I left “God of Carnage” thinking that as we continue to face divisiveness in our country and throughout the world, (which historically has happened time and time again) we would do well to commit to hearts of real understanding for our fellow man – starting in our own homes as well as in our communities – rather than just paying it lip service.”

    Congratulations to the cast–and to the wonderful director, Lauren Knox Mounsey!