God of Carnage

Chaos reigns supreme in Stage Right Pittsburgh’s latest production, God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, as two married couples discuss a skirmish between their children. We have the humanitarian-minded Michael and Veronica Novak, parents to the boy who lost two teeth after being hit with a stick, and the uncomfortable guests Annette and Alan Raleigh, parents to the aggressor. The audience is meant to question the violence of the young boys slated alongside the childishness of the parents as they descend to their base nature.

Bags are thrown, phones destroyed, and one coffee table book takes a regrettable bath, all to underscore a loss of control.  The parents can’t control their children any more than they can control each other or any more than they can control themselves. This was exemplary in James McDonald’s portrayal of one husband, Michael. Through the first half of the show, we see him as a genial host, only somewhat disturbed by his unsatisfactory houseguests, and certainly playing the part of the affable, attentive spouse. Yet there were foreboding moments of what was to come, such as the somewhat sexist assumption that his wife, Veronica, would be the one serving the guests. A moment out of place in the couple’s seemingly equal partnership, yet in the aftermath of Annette’s sick spell, we come to find Michael has been merely playing the part of a cheery partner, and he transforms into ‘one of the guys.’ This is one issue I took with the show, since being on the younger side in most audiences, I don’t side well with the overused tropes of plays about marriage which boil down to, ‘men are like this, but women are like this! Isn’t marriage awful and a drain on everyone involved?’ To me, it’s just lazy writing, and if your jokes are centered around how marriage is terrible and everyone feels that way, it’s perpetuating unhealthy marriages and saying that’s the norm. Some folks might eat it up and think, ‘gosh that’s exactly how MY husband treats ME!’ but that doesn’t jive well with me. It feels stale and overplayed. However, this production delivered the comedy well despite the somewhat overused material.

Though the set was minimal, the actors made good use of the stage and buzzed about as tensions rose. There was a certain air of maintaining order, such as when the distressed Veronica would retire to the kids’ corner to put away toys. I felt there was a fixedness to Veronica, played by Amy Rayko, and she craved control the most of any other character. The frustration of straining to keep things civil gave way to a wave of anger that Rayko genuinely achieved. Set up against her husband, Michael, the friction was palpable between the two, and delightfully excruciating at times. McDonald was a great source of humor as Michael, particularly during moments of awkwardness instilled by the other characters. His air was light and cheery in one half, and sullen with a mean streak in the other, yet he delivered comedy nonetheless.

The promise of this show is to bring adults out of the congenial expectations of society and down to the level of young kids who call each other names on the playground, and it was enjoyable watching this group take that to task.

Stage Right Pittsburgh’s production of God of Carnage is at the Oaks Theatre in Oakmont. Remaining Performances are Saturday, October 20th and Sunday, October 21st.  Tickets on sale now – Click HERE.

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