AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Yasmina Reza
Directed by Jeanie K. Smith
Translated from French by Christopher Hampton
Presented by Palo Alto Players
Lucie Stern Theater
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA /(650) 329-0891

Reviewed by Judy Richter

A polite effort by two couples to deal with the aftermath of a playground fight between their 11-year-old sons quickly goes downhill in "God of Carnage," presented by Palo Alto Players.

Running about 80 minutes without intermission, Yasmina Reza's hilarious, cutting comedy won the 2009 Tony Award for Best Play. It's easy to see why in PAP's finely tuned production directed by Jeanie K. Smith. The show gets a few extra laughs because PAP sets it in Palo Alto with some local references.

As the play opens, Michael and Veronica Novak (Todd Wright and Betsy Kruse Craig) are playing hosts to Alan and Annette Raleigh (Scott Solomon and Melissa O'Keefe), whom they hadn't known previously.

Michael deals in wholesale products for the home, and Veronica is an art historian specializing in Africa. Alan is a lawyer, and Annette is a wealth manager.

The Novaks are concerned because the Raleighs' son hit their son in the mouth with a stick and broke two front teeth. At the very least, the Novaks want the Raleigh boy to apologize, but his parents don't know if he's sorry.

Alan's cell phone frequently interrupts the conversation, much to everyone's growing annoyance. He's worried about the possibility of adverse publicity about a drug made by one of his clients.

One thing leads to another with subtle digs and sarcasms becoming less subtle and more biting. Not only are the two couples arguing with each other, but each couple begins battling, dredging up long-held resentments. Things only get worse when a bottle of rum enters the picture.

Smith has directed this fine ensemble cast to react with both words and actions, even if it's only a slight change of posture or a look of dismay. Everyone is fully involved, making the resulting mayhem credible.

Kuo-Hao Lo designed the comfortable living room set, complemented by Selina Young's lighting and Gordon Smith's sound. The character-specific costumes are by Shannon Maxham.

The program cover calls this play "a brilliant comedy of manners ... without the manners." Add "and with lots of laughs," and you have an apt description.

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