Review: Two couples enter conversational chaos in Florida Rep's superb 'God of Carnage'

Yasmina Reza play examines breakdown of civility and how four people go from coffee to crazy

'God of Carnage' by Yasmina Resa and translated by Christopher Hampton runs through Jan. 22. Performances are Tue.-Sat. at 8pm, Wed., Sun. and select Sat's. at 2pm. Tickets are $40 and $45. Call 239-332-4488 and online at floridarep.org.

Nick Adams / Courtesy Florida Repertory Theatre

"God of Carnage" by Yasmina Resa and translated by Christopher Hampton runs through Jan. 22. Performances are Tue.-Sat. at 8pm, Wed., Sun. and select Sat's. at 2pm. Tickets are $40 and $45. Call 239-332-4488 and online at floridarep.org.

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Video from YouTube

What: Two couples meet to discuss their kids; chaos erupts

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday & Sundays through Jan. 22

Where: 2267 1st Street, Fort Myers

Cost: $40 & $45

Information: (239) 332-4488, floridarep.org

Language: Show contains frequent strong profanity and one racial epithet

Something else: 90 minutes with no intermission; free parking across the street;

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Florida Repertory Theatre unleashed fury, venom, anger and hate Friday night as four actors stomped around an elegant living room set mouthing the barbs in Yasmina Reza's war of words "God of Carnage." The tag-team bout of couples behaving badly makes audiences laugh, howl and recoil in terror.

Reza's slick, witty script dissects an afternoon where two sets of yuppie Brooklyn parents meet to discuss a playground brawl between their sons. Christopher Hampton translated the play from its original French; Roman Polanski directed a 2011 adaptation titled "Carnage," starring Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet.

"Carnage," as the title might suggest, does not start, continue or end well. The characters put on the thinnest possible skin of civility - then spend 90 minutes peeling it off in the most grotesque ways possible. The show illustrates how we present one face to the world - and hide the real, often ugly truth - even when that second face is the honest one. And in "Carnage," with honesty comes pain, hurt and anger.

Because that's what "Carnage" is about. Life isn't pretty. Life is hard, tough and vicious. Life isn't about $40 tulips flown in fresh from Holland, heirloom recipe clafouti or priceless out-of-print catalogs from the 1953 London Kokoschka exhibition.

Director Dennis Lee Delaney seizes on the back-and-forth of Reza's script. A simple discussion over having the boys apologize devolves into a wandering brawl that sees any number of shifting alliances. Everyone behaves. Badly. Manners get tossed out as fast the fanciful tulips that wind up savagely shredded in one final act of beast over banality.

Meet the nice people. There's Michael and Veronica (Craig Bockhorn and Carrie Lund). He's a wholesaler (the kind of over-priced junk you find in Sur La Table) and she's "writing" a book on Darfur. Then, there's Alan and Annette (Chris Clavelli and Shelley Delaney). He's an annoying lawyer always on the phone and she's in wealth management; they dress very well and like nice things.

The four characters never leave the living room - thus the challenge becomes to make 90 minutes of talking look interesting. Trust me - its not just "interesting," it is laugh-out-loud funny, gasp-in-shock horrible and stomp-on-the-floor and scream shocking.

Dennis Delaney stages the show as a verbal four-way chess match. Every line comes with a gesture or body shift or a position - for all four actors. Try and split your attention - because there are four mini-dramas happening at once - one person speaking and three people rolling their eyes, tossing pillows, answering phones or throwing back rum.

Every sentence that someone speaks in this match is a move that slides out onto the chess board. There's an instant attack from some corner - including an entire conversational cul-de-sac about a murdered (yes, brutally murdered) hamster featuring the line "F*** the hamster" that left the audience in stitches and forced the cast to pause the show.

Carrie Lund, always a reliable player, brings her A-game to snotty, do-gooder, "in touch with her feelings" wife Veronica. Her oh-so-reasonable Ronnie seems sensible - but she's actually nutty as a fruitcake. Watching Lund tilt her head, slew her eyes and just stare with perfect disdain at the elegant Shelley Delaney reminds you that acting is so much more than speaking.

Shelley Delaney (she's married to the director) gets one of the play's major dramatic moment; she projectile vomits all over the coffee table and a stack of books. Watch her delicate hints and you'll see the unexpected moment coming. She's so much fun to watch - and a marvel at delivering cutting remarks ("We don't give a damn about their marriage!") or slinging her husband's constantly ringing cell phone into a vase of tulips.

Bockhorn, a lovable teddy bear dressed in calming neutrals, excels at serving up the acerbic pills his Michael delivers in verbal battle. His timing - there's a sense he almost plays the audience as they wait for his words - has the crowd hanging. Be warned, there are remarks that go beyond profanity to vulgarity and even racial epithets. Chris Clavelli's icy, smarmy lawyer falls right into his comfort zone; he delivers perfectly. You'll detest him after watching his Alan spit out "I'm flying to The Hague tomorrow" to a man who sells frying pans for a living.

If there's one complaint about the production - it is that the actors (as marvelous as they are) tend not to speak up throughout the night. The set design swallows noise - and the cast isn't micced. Just six rows back, dead center, it was difficult to pick up some of the dialogue.

Robert F. Wolin's magnificent set works on a couple levels of symbolism. The stylized apartment walls have holes punched in them (as if in anger) and mirrored spaces (to reflect the ugliness on display).

Stare at the set long enough - and recognize a giant Connect Four board. Stare longer - and realize that no four patterns ever connect - a nod to the constantly shifting alliances in the play. Well played.

Savage African art and animal prints, ostensibly a nod to Veronica's interest in the continent (but really a reference to the behavior), litter the apartment. A brilliant red rug - a symbol of the blood-letting to come - lies between the sofa and chairs that divide the couples upon their entrance.

"God of Carnage" makes for one of the most satisfying evenings you're likely to spend inside a theater. Four talented actors rip each other - and the set - to shreds inside 90 minutes with just some words. You'll want a cigarette after.

Tulips. Clafouti. Rum. Date night, anyone? Email me, csilk@naplesnews.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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