by Sarah Haley

When two eight-year-old children get into a fight on their school playground, the parents of the young offenders meet up to discuss the situation. As they delve into the details of their children’s fight, they begin to replicate the immaturity and hostility their children displayed. Montreal based Stendhal X’s production of God of Carnage heighten the themes of the brutal, base, and self-serving nature of humanity. However, the altered scenes that emphasize the emotional turmoil and the themes of Reza’s original text, unfortunately, condescend to the audience. It is an interesting experiment on a well-regarded play, but ultimately, the constant attempts to renew this often performed play falls flat.

god_of_carnage_rahul_gandhi_1
Photography by Rahul Gandhi

God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza delves into human nature via Hobbesian philosophy. The play centers around two families who seem polar opposites on the outside, but after the veneer of social protocol is wiped off, it is clear that they are no different. One family epitomizes the supposed privilege of cultural capital while the other family oozes of capitalism. Their separate outlooks on life breeds conflict which in turns exposes the barest, cruelest aspects of human nature.

As the philosopher Thomas Hobbes once said, “life is nasty, brutish and short.” The same can be said about the play. Directed by Noah Drew, this shortened version of the full length play quickly shifts from civility into the nasty and brutish nature of the two sets of parents. The script is edited with ease,but, the flow of the play might feel more natural if it remained true to the arc of the characters’ descent from civility to brutality. In order to remain within the short run time of 6o minutes, the shift was too soon and too sudden. Without reprieve or gentle easing into the rage, this production is an emotionally exhausting experience.

To continue the emotional journey with the shortened script, the performance uses lighting and movement to explore the hidden message of the arguments. When the parents meet, the stage darkens and an ominous pink light beams down on the families. Rather than shake hands, the parents make animalist movements like predators about to attack. After this brief interlude, the lights return to a gentle amber wash and the families sit down and discuss the children’s fight as if nothing had happened.

This lighting and movement effect populates the performance constantly. With so little time, it is an adept way to convey the words and emotions that aren’t expressed. In spite of this, however, the constant interludes that promote the hidden emotions and stories are heavy-handed and wholly unnecessary. It is avant-garde and in your face, but it is also unnecessary. As the play progresses and the characters’ baser instincts are exposed, the lights change, and the parents are overcome by their base sexual desires as they slowly shed their clothes and are overcome with their personal pleasure and gratification. It bears resemblance to the themes of the play, but it does little to support the play itself. It seems as though it is grafted into the play for provocation rather than purpose.

These heavy-handed attempts to explore the messages of the play are uncomfortable. This is intentional, as it serves as a reminder of how simple it is to slip into our more primal selves, but it is also uncomfortable because it does not contribute to the message or plot, it emphasizes it. The added scenes do not advance the plot or explore the message.  It is a reflection of the narrative and the scenes which undermines the relationship between performance and audience. The quick, simplistic, and animalist reflection implies that the viewers will not understand the message without the themes clearly underscored and emphasized.

Despite the awkward avant-garde skits, the actors command the stage with ease. As Anette and Alain, Annie Luján and Ryan Downey have excellent chemistry and portray their upper-class marriage with ease. As a couple, they are especially talented at shifting between the façade of the happy, successful family to the internal conflict within their marriage. As Michelle and Veronica, Rebecca Bauer and Cleopatra Boudreau play off of each other well, contributing to their pretentious guise and destroying it with their marital strife.

Stendhal X’s production placed Bauer into the traditional role of Michel. The substitution of two heterosexual couples for a lesbian couple is an interesting choice. This casting choice allows the couple to address real issues, conflicts and stigma facing LGBT families, It adds depth to the issues in Veronica and Michelle’s marriage. However, given the script and the gender themes of the play, the inclusion of an LGBT couple is undermined by the gender dichotomy within the script that forces the lesbian couple to inhabit the roles often associated with man and woman, mother and father, and husband and wife.

God of Carnage is an intense play about the breakdown of society and the emergence of the basic instincts. Stendhal X’s production is strong and captivating performance, but the subject matter and the sacrifice of story’s arc is tedious. The attempts to add and embellish the performance are unnecessary and undermine the audience’s capacity for interpretation. It deteriorates the emotional range of the play and its actors, but it remains an apt exploration into the darker animalistic aspects of human nature.

God of Carnage

Written by Yasmina Reza

Presented by Stendhal X

Venue 3: Academic Hall

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