There's irony in that director Miles Potter opens his production of God of Carnage with the Black Eyed Peas' "I've Got a Feeling," with its chorus of "Tonight's gonna be a good, good night." Irony in that it's a lousy night for the characters in Yasmina Reza's play... and, ultimately, not quite a "good, good" night for the audience either.
And oh, it has such potential to be a good, good night. Reza's comedy - which won both a Tony and an Olivier Award for the playwright - delivers incisive questions about human nature with a light touch. The sociological Petri dish here is the home of Michael and Veronica Novak, whose son has been attacked on the playground by the son of their visitors - Alan and Annette Raleigh. Their discussion over how to address the situation begins politely enough (over coffee and clafouti). But it soon devolves into booze-soaked recriminations, and questions about whether adults ever really outgrow childishness - and whether humans have outgrown our primitive tendencies.
Shauna Black and John Cassini in God of Carnage (Bruce Monk)
These are big questions to take on in a show with a running time under 90 minutes. But Reza's script is economical and smart - she fleshes out her characters well, and the dialogue (translated from Reza's original French by Christopher Hampton) snaps, with taut civility at first, sharp one-liners later.
This production, however, delivers unevenly on the promise of the script. It hits its stride later in the show - when gloves drop, alcohol soaks in, and people start to say what they mean, Potter's production delivers both great moments of farce and stinging verbal savagery. But the measured politeness of its opening is over-exaggerated to the point of making the pacing here sluggish. And as we're not engaged immediately, it becomes hard for the audience to care enough about the characters as the tension ramps up.
The cast, too, meets the challenges of the script with mixed results. Oliver Becker finds nice comic touches as the seemingly-reasonable Michael, John Cassini has appeal as the smarmy, cell phone-addicted lawyer Alan, and Vickie Papavs draws laughs as Annette, particularly after the rum kicks in. Shauna Black is less successful as the sensitive, but sanctimonious, writer Veronica - she's too restrained at the outset, while her later emotional outbursts are unconvincing.
Altogether, it's not theatrical carnage. But it is disappointing that this God of Carnage
never quite hits the heights it could.
Joff Schmidt, CBC Theatre Reviewer