Monday, October 7, 2013

Carnage at Merrimack

Laura Latreille and Joseph Adams in God of Carnage.  Photo: Meghan Moore.

We've already seen Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage once in the Boston area (in a slightly awkward misfire at the Huntington), so I'm concerned the new edition up at the Merrimack Rep won't get the attention it should. Which would be too bad, as director Kyle Fabel's rendition is by far the stronger of the two. This time around, the acidic core of this little satire is securely in place (mostly thanks to lead Judith Lightfoot Clarke), and the rather grim set to Reza's sardonic grin is clearly felt by evening's end.

As you no doubt know, the play charts the descent of two yuppie couples (who have come together, ironically enough, to discuss an incident of childish spite between their two sons) from the pinnacle of polite decorum toward the darker, funnier realms of chaos and - well, carnage. This arc is not exactly unpredictable, of course - and to be honest, perhaps the Merrimack production doesn't quite triumph over the limits of Reza's roundelay; the author, as is her wont, is obsessed with finding every aggressive permutation possible between her two sparring couples, and so sometimes she thwarts the narrative momentum of her own text. More than once the play stops dead in its tracks, in fact, so Reza can set up another spin of her confrontational Rubik's cube.

But on the other hand, once we get a sense of the author's method, we're happy to indulge her occasional slips into narrative madness - if the acting on hand is incisive enough.  And at Merrimack, it generally is: Clarke in particular is near perfection as the insufferably concerned Penelope, who spends her days wringing her hands over starvation in Darfur (that is when she isn't loading up her coffee table with limited-edition art monographs, or ordering bouquets of tulips direct from the Netherlands). Joseph Adams likewise makes a strong, slimy impression as the legal shark who nips constantly at her self-regard. But it takes the other half of this quartet a bit longer to warm up - for subtle reasons. Fabel seems least at ease with Reza's razor-sharp distinctions of class, and so both Stephen Caffrey and Laura Latreille don't seem to quite match their characters' intended social echelons (or aspirations). Still, both come through in the end: indeed, once Latreille begins coming apart at the seams (with one of most turbo-charged episodes of projectile vomiting I've seen since The Exorcist), she does so with memorably rude gusto. This year the Boston scene has been thick with strong acting ensembles - but I'm afraid we have to add this quartet to the already-crowded award-contender list.

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