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A Review: God Of Carnage Opens Friday At Waterworks

Early on Yasmina Reza's Tony Award-winning God of Carnage reveals its theatrical bloodline: O'Neill, Miller, Williams, Albee, Letts. Like Long Day's Journey into Night, Death of a Salesman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and August: Osage County, Reza's four-character play features the dysfunctional family as byproduct of an increasingly dystopian America.

In this case there are two dysfunctional families, the Raleighs and the Novaks (note the subtle class distinction sounds here), who are meeting in the Novaks' tastefully appointed living room to oh-so-civilly discuss the fight their sons have gotten into at school. Henry Novak has refused to let Benjamin Raleigh join his gang; as a result, Benjamin has knocked out two of Henry's teeth and “disfigured” his face with a bamboo rod. How to resolve this without a lawsuit?

It's soon apparent that the boys' fight is just the tip of the iceberg. Alan Raleigh is a lawyer whose firm represents a pharmaceutical company whose profitable drug has dangerous side effects; his wife Annette is in-O wondrous 21st century euphemism-“wealth management.” Veronica Novak is a writer who's also part owner of an art history bookstore. Her husband Michael, a middle class schlub who'll later out himself as a “Neanderthal,” runs a wholesale hardware company.

“Carnage” is an operative word; Reza's is a post 9/11, and especially a post-financial meltdown play. As we learn from Alan's frequent cell phone conversations that interrupt the couples' exchange, in this world corporations are indeed amorphous people: “We'll think about the victims later, let's see what the shares do after the annual meeting.” Ironically it's Veronica, ostensibly the most “civilized” character, who declares “Behaving well gets you nowhere. Courtesy is a waste of time.” As this summit meeting-aided by theatre's truth serum, alcohol-devolves into a pitched battle, we see how “civilization” is essentially gang warfare with good grammar.

What's most unique about this play, however, is how the alliances keep shifting, giving the action an odd, morphing quality. It's not merely couple against couple, husband against wife, or men against women-ultimately, it's every man (or woman) for him/herself.

In this Waterworks production Alan, Annette, Michael and Veronica are fleshed out well by Don Blaheta, Leigh Lunsford, Brandon Nuckols and Anita Lynn, respectively. Blaheta's Alan is ramrod-straight physically and emotionally until galvanized into action by his cell phone. Lunsford's Annette is guilty fun to watch as the Novaks' rum lets her inner savage loose. Lynn's Veronica seems very much the blandly supportive wife at first, but her becoming her own scary woman is as satisfying as it is unexpected. Nuckols's Michael, though, is the character to watch. A chinos-and-sweatered Everyman in the opening minutes, he becomes in some ways this production's biggest surprise: his eye-rolls, fidgety hands and facial expressions are a barometer of Carnage's unpredictable weather.

Kudos to Dudley Sauve for his direction; Carnage runs a crisp hour and a quarter, with no intermission. The props, provided by Rosemary Pollard, Pam Wright and Mary Jo Stockton, and the set, built by A. Moffatt Evans, Ed Kinman, Paul Clamp, Evan Jurgensen, Sauve and Nuckols, make visual the play's sense of fragile civility.

God of Carnage runs this weekend and next, September 21-22 and 28-29, beginning at 8 p.m. For ticket information, call 392-3452, or visit the Waterworks website: www.waterworksplayers.org.