THEATER REVIEW: Barn’s ‘Carnage’ trumpets civilization’s thin skin

“God of Carnage” / Theater Barn

A FEW YEARS BACK, while thumbing through one of those snooty interior design magazines, I counted 17 consecutive pages of expensive rooms featuring white sofas. Seventeen! It had become the current symbol of civilized living. Not exactly imaginative, but civilized.

Set designer Abe Phelps was spot-on when he placed a white sofa dead-center stage in the set of Theater Barn’s “God of Carnage.” The sofa sits murmuring “How civilized I am,” amid tall, burgundy panels, city silhouettes and piles of large, shiny art books.

The room is peopled by two couples who have gathered to deal with a playground altercation between their offspring. Missing teeth are involved. Of course, given their white-sofa world, the host couple approaches the issue with calm and reason. Furthermore, they have bought tulips, whose simple innocence and beauty are aimed at mitigating any irritations that might arise.

The coming conflict is predictable. The fun and the philosophy are less so. Lots of the mayhem and most of the humor blossoms from on-a-dime switches of loyalties—from spouse to same gender, other spouse to other husband, and back again in random patterns.

The vocal volume (mezzo piano to forte, forte to double forte, double forte to triple forte) along with bodily agitation (jumping up and down, stomping around, throwing up) reaches a peak and is, I fear, sustained at the same level for too long. Managing the psychology of decibels and physical dynamics is not easy, and this production could use a bit more variety.

“My son is a savage,” says the sleazy-adorable lawyer early on. (Most of the character’s adorableness is contributed by actor Brett Milanowski rather than by the script). He clues us that a savagery/civilization struggle is central to the play and that Yasmina Reza’s view of humankind is probably going to be less than respectful.

Veronica (superbly played by Kathleen M. Carey) is the icon for civilization. The décor, the art books, and her life’s work are determinedly on that side of the argument. Soon, however, we see her stomp savagely over the white sofa of civilization and park on her husband’s ample back. Later she repeats the stomp—and lands on her face, as if the work aims to rub that face in the shallowness of evolution. This is inspired directing.

The play is funny. The tulips are destined for humiliation.

See “God of Carnage” though September 20. Reserve seats at 518-794-8989.

 

 

 

 

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