Friday, June 15, 2012

Play Review: Regional theatre in San Francisco Bay Area...'God of Carnage' at Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley

In the vital and verve filled funny play that runs the range to amusing and hilarious, God of Carnage, by Yasmina Reza and translated from the French by Christopher Hampton is a well-worth seeing evening of Regional Theatre. This Religion Writer was in the audience for the comfortable Opening Night of the play’s run just north of San Francisco in the small, well-healed suburban town of Mill Valley at Marin Theatre Company.
Playwright Yasmina Reza. Photograph: Pascal Victor/ArtComArt

Two of us were entertained and given to thoughtful reflection during this pleasant evening in the lovely town called by Smithsonian Magazine, one of the nation’s best little towns to live in in the USA—top ten in fact. The audience in the theatre seating 312, so the fire martial’s sign says, appeared packed at the opening night, and so very warm as to be enthusiastic for this and other productions of this little theatre that hired for this production, four equity actors. All were just so good that I as an amateur theatre goer was impressed, entertained, and even a little surprised at performance quality so good, and timing for this night of play work just excellent. Even the slapstick moments came to life smoothly, eliciting a spontaneous and surprised laugh-out-loud by all of us in the audience.
This is a real theatre pleasure, and that is why many go to the theatre: To enjoy themselves, be entertained, and learn something from what a playwright like Yasmina Reza has to offer. And she does succeed in an offering of ideas, of morality, and comment—even a statement of God in our contemporary world this 21st Century of parenting and child rearing.
To make the issue extreme, let’s not forget the subject of marriage and relationship. Shall this Religion Writer go for the whole enchilada and add, and the place of God, religion, and faith in contemporary marriage and even grown adult life. Whew! But she does this, too, when one thinks about things in the religious sense of God is Present whether we Know it or Not.
For some reason, having gone to some of the neighborhood theatres in San Francisco, the City, and with my assistant Linda Shirado, enjoyed even performances given in a walk-down-the-stairs to the basement theatre. This reviewer noticed that the lovely little theatre had rust colored, velveteen seats, and here where a home could be bought at an average price of about a million dollars, and low income is $60,000 a year and less, the convivial and happy crowd in their well-educated casual clothes were glad to be able to step from their house and go down the block, to good theatre. And they appreciated and supported this fact. They appreciate and want good theatre close to home.

The British translator of the play–and the play did win a Tony when first produced–said that Yasmina Reza always takes big themes in her work. She has
Noteworthy Christopher Hampton
something to say and this so in God of Carnage. It is not just a funny play and forget it. In fact, in an interview with France Magazine, Christopher Hampton says:
What is it about Yasmina Reza that resonates so powerfully throughout the world?
People recognize the truth of the situations that she puts her characters in. Everybody has experienced those stresses and strains. There’s the comedy of recognition, which audiences love. The plays are extremely elegant and economic; there’s not a word wasted. Everything is to the purpose.
Art actually effected a change in the way people go to the theater. Her model of a 90-minute performance and no intermission—everybody in and out in an hour and a half—audiences love that.
Sara Romano in that Fall, 2009 interview also writes of Mr. Hampton:
A celebrated writer, Hampton has collected a few trophies of his own, including an Academy Award in 1989 for scripting Dangerous Liaisons. He has since written screenplays for such popular movies as Atonement (2007) and, earlier this year, Cheri. He has also penned a dozen plays, lyrics for two Broadway musicals and two opera librettos, and is currently working on another play about British colonialism as well as a screenplay about his childhood. In spite of these many endeavors, translation remains dear to the heart of this Oxford-educated artist.

Bear with me reader, for we will get more meat in this review. But first some necessary details, for the Opening Night at that California Regional Theatre where this Religion Writer was in the audience for the successful play that has been in Europe and America for a few years with similar successes. The show began at 8 p.m. (no theatre curtain, just the set designer’s work of a couch and two white chairs and some red flowers were significantly available to the audience while waiting for the show to begin). The usual uniform for ushers was the black dress, and wine was available in the lobby as well as some other items for those who had not yet taken their seats.
My assistant and I, Linda Shirado, had good seats for a press ticket, but two-thirds back, and a good view of the stage. We were able to hear well in this acoustically designed theatre. If you recall, we’re the people who also go to basement theatre sometimes.
The playwright says of the show during an interview with Script magazine’s Roy Martin, November 29, 2011 when talking about the movie made of the play:
Script: Where did you get the idea for the original play?
Reza: I based it on a real event. I heard the story of the ‘broken tooth’ from one of my son’s friend’s mothers.  She told me the whole story and finished by saying: “And can you believe it, the parents [haven't] even called us!” I immediately thought that I could find material in this story.

This is not a play for children. There is cursing in it that punctuates laugh lines in a manner that appears that the swear-words get a laugh in themselves, without seeming to take away from the line. In fact, the audience in their educated manner, didn’t pause or even notice the dirty words. But this is being written by a Religion Writer who cancelled his subscription to the new Newsweek magazine because of dirty words. Suffice it to say, the dirty words did not really move the dialogue forward or the laughs, even the buffoonery of a few well timed other moves like the slapstick, move this play of rhythmic staging by scenes forward best.
Director Ryan Rilette, who did such a very good, and even excellent job with this play and its performance obviously didn’t agree with this Religion Writer. Maybe this is
Regional theatre director
the modern thing to do, 21st Century. In any event, they weren’t really necessary to the integral meaning in the script—so is my opinion.
Again, taking the perspective of God in our lives, even religion and faith, the author says through characters played as couples in a living room of one couple, that this is a savage world. (single-set theatre throughout the play, no intermission.) One parent event in their conflict over one child beating up another using a stick, 11 year old boys in action, claims the aggressor son is a savage.
Not the same thing as a savage world, no. See Google “News” to find the savagery… But the kind of despair and the secular statement of civilization made by actress Stacy Ross are in clear contrast to the author’s theme made by the other three performers. There isn’t much point in our lives, these three offer

Here is what The British newspaper, The Guardian writes:
… Reza’s play charts the course of this superficially civilized get-together, which soon degenerates into an evening of mutual dislike and name-calling. By the end of the encounter, their acid dialogue has burned through the veneer of smug, bourgeois respectability, with alternately comic and uncomfortable consequences…
…the woman who once reportedly said: “Theatre is a mirror, a sharp reflection of society. The greatest playwrights are moralists.” And it is true that in her plays, pretension, hypocrisy and emotional carelessness are skewered with devastating accuracy. In God of Carnage, the character who provides much of the comic fodder is Alain, the cynical lawyer who spends much of his time on the phone defending the disastrous side-effects of a drug marketed by a dodgy pharmaceutical company…
It isn’t that the interview with Yasmina Reza with writer Elizabeth Day published January 21, 2012 isn’t worthwhile. She has an opinion. The fact is that all in the audience members bring with them what makes them see the play in the way they do, and see and hear what they think the play says.
I do the same. It is what we like about theatre, the collaboration between actors and actresses and audience. Does not a director like Ryan Rilette of Marin Theatre Company think this and work towards it.
This writer still hopes to interview the director after this review is posted, so to add it as Addendum later. Ryan Rilette has experience with Marin Theatre Company (MTC) work, and as the Company reports: “Ryan Rilette (Producing Director) is in his fifth seasons as producing director at MTC, where he has directed the world premieres of Bellwether and Magic Forest Farm, as well as Fuddy Meers, in the Red & Brown Water and boom.”
From 2002 to 2008, Rilette served as producing artistic director of Southern Rep in New Orleans, where he directed the world premieres of Blunder and regional premiers of the Breech, Rising Water, The Sunken Living Room, The Vulgar Soul and The house of Plunder and regional premier of Kimberly Akimbo, The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? And Walks Ed.
His work with actors and overall meritorious staging, shows experience and even a kind of élan that allows what was for me a kind of play of manners to do well in the regional theatre whose home is California USA. This Religion Writer did not find the work so much a “peeling of veneer,” as a development of a series of mini-scenes.
Veronica has been noted as a key character in other articles and reviews, so this writer found on the internet. But the play does not rely on her alone—but of course she has a significant role. But really, the play is about the need to find not propriety, but a sense of hope in life and the world, a kind of entry into civilization as some short speeches well done by Staci Ross as Veronica demonstrated. The speech does so in secular terms without God, religion, Bible, or any kind of reference than self-reference with desire for community and even empowerment. This is a contemporary need of our time.
This drive by her for a commonality with her neighbors and friends just didn’t happen as she desired it to happen. In fact, the husband was without her kind of worldview, let alone a sense of the religious or faithful in life; and the lawyer seemed to be involved with the needs of money, and arguing for a kind of right that will self-fulfilled and help an agenda of his and those he worked with to succeed. This at the cost of even limb let alone the lives of others.
Big issues for a little play.
Oh, the parents stand up for their children, even in the way that the drinking turns to some drunkenness for the sake of character development and relational needs evidences a kind of anesthetization that is in itself a funny statement—laugh aloud funny and so easy to say: Yes, this is how it is and we are used to this drinking to excess business. That is not to say the fact of the alcohol is bad, for in this play it fits well. So it does move the relationships and character development forward. That may be one of the ways that the play shows transformation in character. There we may find a kind of “propriety” lost and morality of the loss of civilized veneer disappear.
More could be said on this, and the changes wrought by the drinking are not alone in statement of transition. It is really their mutual hostility where they sought friendship, which seems to find its camaraderie in a kind of mutual failure. This is not a failure of love of their children; it is a failure of hope. This is a play where God is Present whether the characters know it or Not.
The way to Christian hope has not really begun, but because of a call for civilization and the conflict between the two husbands, especially, played so well and vividly by Warren David Keith as Alan, and Remi Sandri as Michael, Civilization and God is with us in the theatre. For our civilization is still influenced if not formed by Christianity and Judaism, even if in this Marin County where this theatre lives, the residents themselves are secular people. Less than 4% go to Church in this area on a Sunday.
The performance by the two men is a tandem of skill and interplay that shows they not only worked and work well together, but they have a level of professionalism that demonstrates their equity actor status. This is a performance of a kind that helps make a reputation for a regional theatre’s acting qualities.
Transitions continue to occur in a rising and falling action manner, almost a harmony of choreography in its best moments. How wonderful the breakdown to shouting at one another becomes. The audience is delighted in the play on hostilities between the couples. The physical action was this night so well timed, and I especially enjoyed it when the character Annette, played by the more than competent and very attractively played Rachel Harker grabs the red flowers and throws them in their red glory to the floor of the living room. Amazing grace! Even a shocking, What? Bad behavior by adults may be similar to bad behavior to their children in this theatrical work. But let’s not go there. This review is long enough.
God of Carnage: Comedy. By Yasmina Reza. Directed by Ryan Rilette. Through June 17. Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. 75 minutes. $34-$55.             (415) 388-5208      .

This article appeared originally Church of England Newspaper, London. To contact the writer: .

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