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Everyman Theatre stages Tony Award-winning 'God of Carnage'

We have all seen adults acting — to borrow a song lyric — more like children than children. But, if you’re lucky, you’ve never met anyone quite like the people who spout, spar and spew in “God of Carnage,” the Tony Award-winning Yasmina Reza play currently getting an effective workout at Everyman Theatre.

Meet the Novaks, Michael and Veronica, well-to-do parents of a boy who has lost some teeth and a whole lot of playground cred after being clobbered by the son of the likewise well-off Raleighs, Alan and Annette.

When the Novaks invite the Raleighs over to discuss the incident, things are understandably a little tense, but oh so well-intentioned. As Veronica suggests, “Fortunately, there is still such a thing as the art of coexistence.”

Yeah, right. It doesn’t take long in this bitingly funny, roughly 90-minute work before the veneers come off and the claws come out. As a case history in human behavior, it’s enough to set the species back a few millennia.

“God of Carnage,” written in the playwright’s native French and translated by Christopher Hamilton, won the best play Tony Award after its 2009 Broadway debut. It has been widely embraced by regional theater companies since. (Reza also wrote the screenplay for the 2011 Roman Polanski-directed film “Carnage,” which starred Christoph Waltz and Jodie Foster.)

The play's appeal is easy to understand, especially for actors, who get a crack at four juicy roles and some great comic antics. And audiences invariably enjoy seeing the pretentious and condescending brought low, the upmarket reduced to floundering in the gutter.

For that matter, there’s always the rubbernecking allure of seeing supposedly happily married couples get their fenders dented. Little flickers of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” (including lots of drinking and a nausea-prone wife) light the corners of “God of Carnage,” which only adds to the overall fun.

It is possible to wish for more depth and development in this briskly drawn portrait of contemporary culture, which sometimes feels like an extended skit. But Reza’s clever, stinging view of contemporary culture makes for a bracing burst of theater.

The Everyman production, directed by Eleanor Holdridge, delivers that burst with a good deal of spark. Performances are likely to gain steadily in crispness of pacing and nuance in the delivery as the run continues.

(On opening night, timing could have been tighter, interplay between characters a bit more kinetic. Then again, I could not see all of the action from where I was seated, so a few staging details may have eluded me.)

As usual, Everyman resident artist Deborah Hazlett is a standout. She has the role of Veronica Novak, a writer (the Darfur tragedy is a special focus), lover of fine books, and would-be moral compass in this dicey domestic situation.

Watching Hazlett’s facial expressions is a hoot in itself as she conveys the character’s gradual shifts in attitude toward the other three people in what becomes a grown-up playpen, where battle lines are drawn between couples and, eventually, between the sexes.

Christopher Bloch plays Michael, Veronica’s self-made husband and self-described Neanderthal, who thinks a sweater will make him look enough like a liberal to handle the “psycho-drama” unfolding in his living room. Bloch’s dynamic range could use some widening, but he gets in fine flourishes as the action intensifies (and Michael’s prized rum starts flowing).

Megan Anderson, another reliable Everyman member, does solid work as Annette Raleigh, who tries so hard to contain her emotions, but — spoiler alert — has trouble containing the clafouti that Veronica serves. (The projectile-vomiting scene is easily the most deliciously horrid incident in “God of Carnage.”)

Tim Getman has a very impressive romp as Alan Raleigh, a lawyer with iffy ethics and a pathetic dependency on his cell phone. The vibrant performance, which suggests a dark-side, spring-loaded version of the Phil Dunphy character from “Modern Family” (Getman even has a passing resemblance to Ty Burrell), gives the whole production an extra charge.

Timothy R. Mackabee’s attractively sleek set design has one miscalculation — a massive mural that gives away the dog-eat-dog point of the play from the get-go. A work this packed with verbally heavy armaments hardly needs sledgehammer visuals.

"God of Carnage" runs through April 7.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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