Black Comedy Strikes at Family Relationships

South Bend Civic Theatre opened its 2018 season last month with “Boeing Boeing,” a traditional farce with lots of girls, lots of doors, lots of mistaken identities and a fairly happy ending..

Its second offering, which opened Friday evening in the Warner Studio Theatre, is another farce.

The fact that these plays share the same dramatic designation is the only similarity.

“God of Carnage,” by Pulitzer Prize-wining playwright Yasmina Reza, definitely lives up to its description. It is a “black comedy,” which has nothing to do with the ethnicity of its characters but everything to do with its type of humor.

Set in an upper-middle-class apartment in Brooklyn, the 2009 Tony Award-winning Best Play focuses on the meeting of two sets of parents, ostensibly to bring a civil conclusion to a physical encounter between their young sons.

Benjamin Raleigh, the son of Alan (Bill Svelmoe) and Annette (Colleen Dabler), has attacked Henry Novak, son of Michael (Vincent Bilancio) and Veronica (Abbey Platt), with a stick, resulting in breaking his two front teeth.

The Novaks, especially Veronica, are determined to find a way for Benjamin to make amends civilly, a conclusion which, at first, seems fairly agreeable to all. Gradually, however, the cracks in the polite façade begin to appear and widen until, by the end of the evening, the parents have resorted to the physical violence they were trying to avoid for their sons.

Alan, a lawyer representing a pharmaceutical company in a major case, is constantly on his cellphone which increasingly angers Annette until she finally loses control and deals with it frantically.

Veronica maintains her composure the longest until Annette’s increasing panic attack results (spoiler alert for those with weak stomachs) in her vomiting all over Veronica’s precious books.

Meanwhile, Michael’s revelations that 1) he was a member of a teen gang and 2) that the annoying click of his daughter’s hamster wheel led him to dump the unwanted rodent out in the middle of the street, lead to adverse reactions from all.

Throughout the 80-minute (no intermission) production, the layers of each individual’s character are stripped away, revealing the basic instincts for carnage that are universally destructive and obviously intrinsic to all.

Mark Allen Carter directs the increasing warfare which the cast creates with appropriately horrific relish. Smelvoe embodies the 21st century man who is undeniably — and frantically — lost without his cellphone. Bilancio is too much of a 1920s gangster type to be believably matched with Platt who maintains her composure until the disgusting (if uncontrollable) assault on her beloved books. Dabler is constantly teetering on the edge of a panic attack and her voice sharpens to an ear-splitting screech as the violence increases.

One of the most frightening things about “God of Carnage” is its display of the uncontrollable rage that simmers just below the surface of controlled and polite communication. Here it is played for laughs and, I suppose, if we didn’t laugh we would have to look at how uncomfortably familiar it is.

The set design, which is uncredited, is rather spare, no doubt in anticipation of the unusual punishment it must take with each performance. The pre-show music, Taylor Swift’s “Mean,” is the perfect lead-in to the carnage to follow.

“GOD OF CARNAGE’ plays through March 3 in the South Bend Civic Theater Warner Studio Theatre, 403 S. Main St. For performance times and reservations call (574) 234-1112.






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