Note to readers: This is an occasional theater column. Reviews of productions will be written by various members of area theater companies, as well as educators.
Since seeing the premiere of Yasmina Reza’s play “Art” in London, I’ve been intrigued by her ability to dramatize the little human idiosyncrasies of life. So I was very excited to attend McHenry County College’s Black Box Summer Theater production of “God of Carnage” (aka “Rumble in the Living Room” as New York Times critic Ben Brnatley dubbed it).
“God of Carnage,” Reza’s seventh play, won the 2009 Tony for Best Play, Best Director, Best Actress and the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy – and when you see the show, you’ll understand why. There is definitely physical comedy and word play, but due to the shifting emotions, blurring combat lines, barrage of swear words and adult topics (ranging from misogny, alcoholism, racism to hamster murder), I hasten to add “Carnage” is not a traditionally understood definition of a comedy.
Gifted Director Kellee Stall has assembled a balanced ensemble of four talented, unique actors. Jay Geller, producer and chair of MCC’s theater program, is Michael, a self-made and proud-of-it wholesaler of domestic hardware. He also is tormented by a frequently calling ill mother. As true of the other actors, Geller’s acting is impeccable and believable. He is both comic and tragic in his John Wayne virility.
Shannon Mayall is Veronica (wait till you hear her four-syllable elongation of that name). Veronica is an art maven with the most prized possession of a 1950 London exhibition catlaog of the artist Kokoschka – um, who? (I won’t tell you what happens to the catalog, but thank heavens for Michael’s skill with a blow dryer.) She is also an author of a book on the Darfur tragedy. Mayall, quite simply, is a phenomenon. Her execution of a prim and proper rigid socialite who is exhausted into a hitting, swearing combatant is a lesson in acting skills.
Patrick Thompson is Alan of the younger parent set – a slick lawyer who doesn’t seem able to detach himself from his cell phone due to a big problem with a wonder drug. His acting is a showcase of logic, methodology and spitefulness. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a very attractive man.
Laura Power portrays Annette, the second wife of Alan and is in “wealth management” – um, what? Spoiler alert: Power has the difficult task of realistically vomiting on stage, both a dramatic and comic moment. She is truly engaging as she morphs from a vulnerable, anxious woman into a wronged lioness.
All four actors almost flawlessly deliver amazing amounts of dialogue with perfect timing, posturing and pacing. The show is enticing and irrestible. It deserves the standing ovation received on opening night.
The plot of the 90-minute play is not a complex one. Two sets of parents meet to “logically and amiably in a civilized manner” discuss a playground situation involving their two 11-year-old sons, Ben and Henry. Ben, armed with a stick, has knocked out Henry’s two front teeth because Henry wouldn’t let Ben join his “gang.” (Father Michael is, by the way, delighted Henry has a gang, much like he did in his youth.) Henry also has called Ben a snitch. The meeting descends into an evening of arguments, switching allegiances and comments that zing, wound and paralyze. Marital chaos is accompanied by temper tantrums, tulip throwing (“$40 a bunch from the Korean deli”) and cell phone destruction.
The audience makes an almost immediate connection with what is about to enfold as they pass through the Novak’s kitchen into seats surrounding their Cobble Hill Park leathered living room. Sue Lewis has designed a simple, upscale, effectively utilized set.
This is a professional production not to be missed. It has no intermission; you won’t notice the time as you are so completely involved with the situation. My only complaint: I and many other opening night members had a difficult time finding the theater. No signs for the Black Box Theater were posted. (And you won’t find it on the college’s online map either.) It is no longer in Building D. My best advice is to park in Lot C-1 and go in the closest doors. Follow the posters inside, or better yet, hope someone leaves clafouti crumbs (you’ll learn what that is in the show) for you to follow.
• Regina Belt-Daniels is a working actress and director who began her career onstage at the Woodstock Opera House in 1985. Currently serving on the Raue Center for the Arts Board, she also is a lifetime member of TownSquare Players and a retired District 47 teacher.
“GOD OF CARNAGE”
WHEN: 7 p.m. July 17-18 and 2 p.m. July 19
WHERE: Black Box Theatre at McHenry County College, 8900 Route 14, Crystal Lake
COST & INFO: A 2009 Tony Award-winning play by Yasmina Reza about how a playground altercation between 11-year-old boys brings together two sets of Brooklyn parents for a meeting to resolve the matter. Due to adult content and strong language, play is suitable for ages 14 and older. Tickets: $12 or $14 including a dessert and drink. Tickets and information: 815-455-8746 or firstname.lastname@example.org.