AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Ryan Rilette
Presented by Marin Theatre Company
Boyer Theatre
397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, CA / Phone (415) 388-5208

Reviewed by Judy Richter

It doesn't take long for the veneer of social niceties to wear off and change into more primitive behavior in Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage." In this 80-minute, intermissionless production by Marin Theatre Company, director Ryan Rilette skillfully yet inexorably leads his talented cast through this gradual evolution.

The action takes place in the Brooklyn living room of Veronica (Stacy Ross) and Michael Novak (Remi Sandri). They are meeting with Alan (Warren David Keith) and Annette Raleigh (Rachel Harker) after a playground altercation between their 11-year-old sons. It ended with the Raleigh boy hitting the Novak boy with a stick and leaving him with a cut lip and two damaged front teeth. Apparently the Novaks want the Raleigh boy to apologize, but Alan isn't sure if his son realizes or cares about the need to do so.

The conversation starts out stiffly but politely between these strangers, but as the discussion continues and chance remarks are dropped, tension builds. Often it is reflected in the expressions of the wives as they react negatively to some comment by one of the men. Body language in all four characters also is quite telling. Punctuating the discussion is the frequent ringing of Alan's cell phone. A corporate attorney, he's working with a colleague to suppress news that a drug made by one of their clients can have severe side effects. In the meantime, Michael reveals his own brand of callousness by telling how he released his daughter's hamster on the street. Then there are Annette's stomach upsets and a bottle of rum. Nothing good can come of this, and nothing does as tensions within each marriage and between the couples are revealed.

Since Veronica is an art historian specializing in Africa, the exposed brick wall in Nina Ball's set designed is symbolically adorned with primitive art, complemented by Mike Palumbo's lighting. Meg Neville's costumes help to define the characters, while Cliff Caruthers' music and sound add to the ambience.

The play often is quite funny, but director Rilette uses restraint, relying on his talented cast and allowing the humor to come through naturally rather than resorting to slapstick or extreme physicality. The result is a thoroughly satisfying production that makes for some interesting discussion on the drive home.

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