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Comedy Mayhem On Stage At Old Globe With “God Of Carnage”

Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

If Neil Simon was the King of Comedy from the 1960’s, through the 1990’s, then French-born playwright Yasmina Reza is on track to become the Queen of intelligent and sophisticated comedy for the 21st Century. Comparisons are odious at best, and in the case of Neil Simon, he is in a class by himself.

However, with a continuing output of her brand of sophisticated comedies over the next few years, and with a little bit of luck, Reza could find herself the dominant female playwright of the early 21st century. Her material, like Simon, transcends gender, nationality, and culture. Her plays, written in French and translated by English playwright Christopher Hampton, resonate with audiences of all stripes and strata. Whether her audiences are rich or poor, her characters quickly and easily become identifiable.

One of her earlier efforts was the 1998 Tony winning comedy “Art”, which signaled that a new major playwright was among us and was revealing all of our foibles and shortcomings for the world to see. It was a delicious and auspicious beginning. Then in 2007, her latest comedy bombshell hit the stages of the world. “God of Carnage” became an overnight comedy blockbuster play. It’s been translated into more than 30 languages, and still growing.

Which brings us to The Old Globe production of “God of Carnage” now onstage at the Sheryl and Harvey White arena stage. I’ve seen three previous productions (all proscenium staged) and, as I mentioned above comparisons are odious indeed, however, the current Globe production that stars: Caitlin Muelder as Annette, Erika Rolfsrud as Veronica, and Lukas Caleb Rooney as Michael (all three talented actors are graduates of Old Globe/University of San Diego Graduate Theatre Program), and T.Ryder Smith as Alan, can slug it out with the best of them when it comes to engaging in theatrical onstage mayhem. This quartette of performers doesn’t have to take a back seat to any ensemble that has previously performed the play.

The story by now should be familiar to theatre going audiences everywhere. In short, it’s a hilarious, ninety-minute comedy of “bad manners” on the part of two sets of upscale New York parents, who come together to discuss a schoolyard confrontation by their two eleven year-old sons. Initially, they gather in an upscale Brooklyn home to sort out what took place. At first civility is upheld, but as the libation-fueled conversations continue, the tone changes, ultimately going off track sending a warning that a street brawl is about to take place. When discussions ultimately spiral out of control, and decorum flies out the window, the audience gears up for a session of name-calling and tantrums from adults who should know better.

But their loss of control is our gain, as Reza’s razor-sharp wit illuminates the situation many people often find themselves in. Her acute ear for spot-on dialogue reminds me of the late, great, playwright Paddy Chayefsky. Very few writers had his gift and ear for the dialogue of the people he wrote about. Tennessee Williams also had the gift and we are the richer for it. Reza is about to join some pretty heady company.

T. Ryder Smith’s Alan (complete with his cel phone as his best friend) is a Freudian delight, and fascinating to watch. Erika Rolfrud’s Veronica, is so hypocritically spot-on that I thought I heard one or two squirming seats after her outbursts. When it comes to throwing away all pretense of decorum on the part of Michael, Lukas Caleb Rooney’s inner Neanderthal comes roaring out as if in relief from the game he has been forced to play. When Caitlin Muelder’s Annette, the tightly wound investment banker character finally snaps, the audience react as if they’ve heard an explosion. It’s a sublime theatrical comedy moment.

I’ve deliberately saved the best for last. Richard Seer, the director of this wonderfully funny and entertaining production is entitled to all the bows and kudos that come his way.

His inspired direction of this ensemble cast, in the round, gives proof that not all technically difficult plays should be staged in a proscenium theatre. One forgets that all of the wonderful magic taking place on the stage is a collaborative effort seen through the lens of the director’s personal vision. Come and share the experience. You won’t be disappointed.

“God of Carnage” runs through September 2, 2012. Tickets can be purchased by going online to www.theoldglobe.org or by phone at 619-234-5623.