By ALAN SMASON, WYES-TV Theatre Critic (“Steppin’ Out“)
With its most recent production of God of Carnage, the Jefferson Performing Arts Society has taken the wraps off Yasmina Reza’s controversial work first seen here at Southern Rep in 2011, less than five years after its original premiere in French in December of 2006.
This production is based on the translation by Christopher Hampton, a successful Broadway run that had initially played for a limited run in early 2009, but was held over, suspended for several weeks in the summer and eventually remounted in the fall until 2010.
The premise of the wryly written work surrounds two sets of 40-ish parents – the Raleighs and the Novaks – who are meeting at the Novaks’ apartment, following an attack in which Henry, their 11-year-old son, has been violently attacked with a stick by the Raleighs’ 11-year-old son Benjamin.
The injuries sustained are serious – two incisors have been broken and one nerve has been exposed – and will require extensive dental repairs. The parents realize they must all deal with the problem, if for nothing else than to determine damages.
The Novaks have invited the Raleighs to their home in an attempt to draft statements from each couple on the incident, which they hope will bring about a resolution to the incident. David Haydel, Jr. plays Michael Novak, while Jennifer Schemke plays his wife Veronica. Jake Wynne-Wilson and Reagan Lincoln play Alan and Annette Raleigh, respectively.
While the demeanor of the couples at the start of the 90-minute work begins on a somewhat respectful and tentative basis, it soon devolves into a series of insults and altogether bad behavior punctuated by unwise swigs of expensive rum. Their reckless, insensitive and self-centered actions give the audience an understanding as to why their children felt it necessary to resort to violence in the first place.
Directed with precision by Donald Jones, Jr., this production has more than its share of funny moments, albeit the humor is very, very dark. The actors are all quite spectacular in their portrayals. Michael Novak is a clueless and emasculated owner of a store that sells doorknobs and frying pans. In a brilliant bit of non-verbal direction , Veronica enters her apartment as a free-spirit, cleansing the room with incense to remove any lingering negativity. Schemke plays the liberal writer and Afrophile with equal parts of wistful abandon and pragmatism at first. But by play’s end, she is also brought down to a primal state.
Wynne-Wilson’s portrayal of attorney Alan Raleigh reveals him to be an alpha male, completely absorbed in his work and a slave to the constant ringtone on his cellphone. It is obvious he wishes to be elsewhere and, when confronted by the Novaks, readily admits his son is “a savage.” His primary motivation is to get the meeting over with as soon as possible and get on to more important things.
Meanwhile, as his prim and proper financial advisor wife Annette, Lincoln undergoes a traumatic change, emerging at the end of the play as thoroughly disagreeable and unlikable.
In fact, all of Reza’s characters undergo a transformation of some sort and always with poor results. These are very bad adults acting out in the worst possible of ways. Even though we detest their increasingly immature actions, we are compelled to see the results play out. The players make a mess of their lives and, quite famously, the stage too.
Eric Porter’s set and lighting designs are a superb new addition to the JPAS creative team. Hunter Wainwright’s sound design, especially in keeping up with the ringtones on Alan’s cellphone, are also quite well done.
As a first time director, Jones Jr., a New Orleans native and Brother Martin graduate, brings with him a wealth of experience gleaned on the road and on Broadway as a choreographer and performer. His work with this cast would suggest he is destined to become a regular part in JPAS’s future productions.
God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza (90 minutes) finishes its run at Teatro Wego!, 177 Sala Avenue in Westwego, LA. Final two shows are Fri.., Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Sun, Oct. 10 at 2:00 p.m. (No show on Sat. due to rescheduling.) Tickets are available here.