Although we tend to make fun of ourselves and our attempts to behave in a civilized manner, deep down, we’d all much rather believe that politeness and civilization can and do prevail. To prove our civility, we take comfort in knowing that, while mere children and less fortunate countries struggle with the concept, the adults of the west have mastered the art of decorum. Then along comes a play like Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage and undermines the hypocrisy inherent in this self-congratulation. As director Ross Manson’s production for Third Wall so wonderfully points out, all it takes for total social unraveling is one glitch in the well-oiled machine.
The scene is modern day Paris. Two 11-year old boys have been in a fight. The son of Alain and Annette has broken two teeth of the son of Michel and Véronique, their hosts. The parents, all bourgeois courtesy and genteel grace, meet to discuss the matter and figure out a plan of action. Gradually, tensions emerge between and among the couples and the courteous visit descends into a hysterical, crying, projectile-vomiting mess.
At one point, Michel says, “Children consume and fracture our lives. Children drag us towards disaster, it’s unavoidable.” Indeed, they do reduce their parents to chaos, but what Yasmina Reza’s script, as translated by Christopher Hampton, does so well through its ingenious dialogue is point out just how thin the veneer of manners separating us from our true, “Neanderthal” selves is.
Manson has done a wonderful job of creating a space, which allows his talented cast to dig deep into their characters and exploit every moment to its fullest. An uneasy electricity runs throughout the entire production. It is there, coursing just below the surface, as the hosts serve their guests cake and prattle meaningless reassurances of respect and mutual admiration. Manson follows the ups and down of the script, taking us from crescendo to insufferably repressed silence and fake smiles. From the beginning, he creates an atmosphere, filling the audience with a sense of expectation and keeping their attention glued.
So much of the success of a play like God of Carnage rests on the actor’s ability to employ perfect timing and convey emotion both out loud and below the surface. All four actors in Third Wall’s production live up to the task. Mary Ellis’ Véronique is a delight as she goes from a bastion of steadfast morality to an alcohol swigging, vulgar ball of anger who doesn’t think twice about hitting those around her. Todd Duckworth is an aloof and cold Alain, a lawyer whose lack of scruples and care become more evident as the play progresses. John Koensgen’s Michel is at his best when yelling about his own vulgarity and Kristina Watt’s Annette unwinds at a perfect pace and balances out her husband. The cast made the interactions between the characters believable and, thus, all the more horrifying and hilarious.
Watching sophisticated adults try to solve the follies of their children only to become the worst kind of anarchic, selfish children themselves should be nothing short of alarming. After all, who really likes to acknowledge the possibility that, beneath all the social training, we’re still nothing but our own inner savages? Third Wall’s God of Carange manages to wrap this message in such fun though that you can’t help laughing, as much at the characters’ folly as at your own.
God of Carnage plays at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre until March 2. Call613-236-1425
God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza
Directed by Ross Manson
Set designer : Brian Smith
Lighting: Rebecca Miller
Sound design: James Richardson
Alain Reille………….Todd Duckworth
Véronique Vallon…….Mary Ellis
Michel Vallon…………John Koensgen
Annette Reille………….Kristina Watt