Maintaining a polite veneer around others is what makes us "civilized," yes? But what if the gloves come off?
In "God of Carnage," director Mark Routhier has assembled a cast of four who get down and dirty so entertainingly that laughter all but drowns out the little voice in our heads warning, "But that could be you too."
That's part of the beauty of Yasmina Reza's play, presented superbly by Orlando Shakespeare Theater. Routhier thankfully eschews the theatricality that could be used in such a high-octane comedy, instead keeping the characters grounded in reality.
We live with these people, we're related to these people. And as insults are hurled, alliances shift and façades are dropped, we wonder if we're as bad as these people.
The concept is simple: A boy has hit another boy with a stick so the two sets of parents, strangers to each other, have gathered to form a course of action. Things quickly start to fall apart.
Rus Blackwell, delightfully smirky when not barking orders, is a lightning rod for disgust as a manners-less cell-phone addict. As Alan, he postures as a man's man with Mark Ferrera's Michael. Ferrera strikes the right jovial tone with hints of a domineering side that emerges later.
As Veronica, Anne Hering's voice and face become wearier and wearier as she realizes how easily her high-minded hopes can be dashed. "Are we allowed to drink?" she mutters defeatedly. Meanwhile, Suzanne O'Donnell's voice gets stronger, her stance more defiant, as Annette loses her inhibitions.
The play has a surface resemblance to
And because it's a comedy — and a quite funny one — the audience's laughter diffuses the tension that can build unbearably in "Woolf."
The Shakes' production drives home the play's ideas: A woman croons "What a Wonderful World" at the start before the song dissolves into an unsettling minor chord. (Sound design is by Britt Sandusky.) In Robbin Watts' scenic design, a violently red piece of art has symbolically exploded over the set, jagged pieces bobbing above the actors. The lighting, by Kevin Griffin, rises as the characters' tempers flare and dims as they regain their poise.
Reza's play depicts how we humans show our ugliness more than it analyzes why. This journey to the dark side of human nature is more entertaining than enlightening. But when a show is this entertaining, that's more than enough.
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•What: 'God of Carnage'
•Length: 75 minutes, no intermission
•Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando
•When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; through Nov. 13
•Tickets: $20-$38; $10 discount for students and military