Civility turns ugly in clever ‘Carnage’

By Roger Shoemaker
Contributing writer

There is something funny and disturbing and wonderfully dramatic happening in Orleans. It is Elements Theater Company’s production of Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage.”

COURTESY OF ELEMENTS THEATRE COMPANY  Rachel McKendree, left, and Sister Danielle Dwyer play mothers of schoolmates in Elements Theatre Company's production of "God of Carnage."

COURTESY OF ELEMENTS THEATRE COMPANY Rachel McKendree, left, and Sister Danielle Dwyer play mothers of schoolmates in Elements Theatre Company’s production of “God of Carnage.”

On Stage
What: “God of Carnage”
Written by: Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton
Presented by: Elements Theatre Company
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3…

ORLEANS – There is something funny and disturbing and wonderfully dramatic happening in Orleans. It is Elements Theater Company’s production of Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage.”

We enter a tastefully appointed living room, in which two couples have met to have a civilized and productive conversation about the fact that one couple’s son has hit the other couple’s son in the mouth with a bamboo pole, breaking two teeth.

Our hostess, Veronica Vallon, is the mother of 11-year old Bruno of the broken teeth. She is a writer, art historian and all-around good-doer. Her husband, Michael, is a home-goods wholesaler, mild of manners.

The parents of aggressor Freddy are Alan, an attorney in the employ of a pharmaceutical firm, and his wife, Annette, who describes herself as in “wealth management” (presumably Alan’s).

The two couples are working overly hard to be civil in what clearly has the possibility of becoming a heated confrontation. As expected, civility soon breaks down, and what ensues is a complex dance of conflicts and alliances which pit each and all against each and all in a production which is excruciatingly funny, and at times just plain excruciating.

Rachel McKendree, as Veronica, drives the first half of the play with her ever-fading grip on civility at all costs. Michael, as played by Chris Kanag, undergoes an extraordinary transformation as the play proceeds, eventually taking off his sweater, untucking his shirt and displaying the self his wife has tried so hard to hide.

Brad Lussier, as Alan the attorney, also moves to shirtsleeves, but is able to hang on to his intellectual distance, even though he continues to call his wife by her pet name, “Woof-Woof.”

Sister Danielle Dwyer, as “Woof-Woof” herself, Annette, also displays virtuoso acting skills as her character moves from prim reasonableness to the chaos of despair.

And, yes, all of it is very, very funny. This is the kind of humor that makes you think. You laugh, then are ashamed of yourself for laughing. Then you laugh again, this time harder.

Elements Theatre Company is a true repertory company and more, in that not only are the same actors involved in the productions, but they are also a major part of the creative production team. The show is ably directed by Dwyer. She has a lovely feel for pace and style, without which this script could easily fall into farce or melodrama, and it is neither. Lussier is the company’s dramaturg, and McKendree Veronica teaches classes and workshops for the company. Kanaga is the technical director and has coordinated an excellent set design by Sisters Sarah Allen and Annemarie Norman, and effective and unobtrusive lighting design by Tom Lynch and Steve Witter. Costumes, stage properties, sound effects, every detail is carefully chosen to enforce the style and content of the Element Theatre Company’s production of this extraordinary script.

This play and production represent the 21st-century evolution of the theatrical worldviews of Chekhov, only with easier names, and Albee’s famous two-couples play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” only with humor in place of vitriol. It is a fine night of theater, and audiences will come away both entertained and enlightened.

– See more at: http://www.capecodtimes.com/article/20141111/ENTERTAINMENTLIFE/141119887/101018/ENTERTAINMENT