GOD OF CARNAGE (Montgomery Theater): A rich unraveling

Excerpted by kind permission from Neals Paper.

Nathan Foley, Charlotte Northeast,  Sarah Fraunfelder and Damon Bonetti in GOD OF CARNAGE. Photo by Angela McMichael
Nathan Foley, Charlotte Northeast, Sarah Fraunfelder and Damon Bonetti in GOD OF CARNAGE.
Photo by Angela McMichael

Civilization is not easy to maintain. One knock and the lapse of a moment can set it off kilter. So Veronica Novak (Charlotte Northeast) finds out when, in an pure paean to the modern way of doing things in our would-be Puritan world, she invites another couple, the Raleighs (Damon Bonetti and Sarah Fraunfelder), to her home to discuss the aftermath of a fight between their nine-year-olds sons.

Veronica is trying to sort out what drove the Raleighs’ child to approach her son with a branch and hit the boy in the cheek, dislodging two of his teeth and causing damage to another. She wants to know if the Raleigh boy told his parents of the incident, explained why he did it, and is willing to come in person to apologize to her son. She also wants to know what the Raleighs intend to do to discipline their son and prevent such a violent incident from happening again.

The scene Yazmina Reza depicts in GOD OF CARNAGE hits on so many of the niceties of modern life: The discussion, the intervention, the civilized way of doing things. We look to be a world that speaks calmly to settle matters that disturb the peace and the general world order. Reza, as translated from French by Christopher Hampton, is astute in the way she plots Veronica’s best of intentions. Even if the mother seems to be laying things on thick, there’s a sense of purpose in how she goes about it, and you appreciate her effort even while realizing Reza is making fun of it.

That double-handed reaction is among the joys of GOD OF CARNAGE, a comedy that is bound reveal the crux of human nature and do so hilariously, particularly at Souderton’s Montgomery Theater, where Damon Bonetti, Nathan Foley, Sarah Fraunfelder, and a a marvelous Charlotte Northeast are conducting one of the great comic rows of all time.

The boys’ tussle soon fades into the background, as the Novaks become irritated with some of the responses and behaviors of the Raleighs, the Raleigh wife gets furious at the Raleigh husband, and the Novak husband and wife show the strain in their marriage.

In most productions, matters unravel unstopping so what starts as a peaceful discussion snowballs into a temperamental affair in which accusations get hurled, nerves get frayed, insults abound, and clothes get ripped. Director Jessica Bedford’s GOD OF CARNAGE is no ordinary productions, and its differences surprisingly illuminate Reza’s play to make it richer, if less rollicking, than when it becomes a knockdown-dragout event. Bedford lets words do the work, and by taking that approach, you see more depth, more shadings than usually appear.

Bedford’s production might not be as much fun as some of the more rock-em, sock-em stagings, but it’s richer and more rewarding. It reveals a sensitivity that goes beyond shrill voices and raised fists. You really understand all four characters in compact depth and to develop sympathies and allegiances. Veronica, for example, originally seems the most extreme with her insistence on talking everything out, doing the appropriate thing, and staying within the boundaries of political correctness. She looks like she’s going to be the goat, the one whose seriousness causes all the mayhem.

Her effort to find resolution is the catalyst for all that follows, but with Bedford’s pace and emphasis on the verbal over the physical, and Northeast’s portrayal, you come to see Veronica as the most sensible, dignified, and peace-minded of the group.

Northeast is a tyro who can careen between trying to do the right thing, righteous indignation, and empathy-evoking revelations. She gives Veronica dimension that makes her a woman who strives for the better, even if at time it makes her look inflexible and pontificating.

As her husband Michael, Nathan Foley finally get a role that could earn his attention he’s been deserving for years.The most natural and recognizable character on stage, his Michael is a regular guy who thinks his wife is going too far with her “peace talks” but indulges her while delighting in sharing the excellent 10-year-old rum and first-rate Cuban cigars he has been able to procure because of his connections as a wholesaler. Foley’s reactions mirror the way you’d expect most men to react when put in the situations Reza assigned his character.

Damon Bonetti perfectly embodies a high-powered attorney whose business, the one that makes Cobble Hill affordable, comes first. Bonetti beautifully signals contempt for what he considers to be Veronica’s mountain-making regarding their sons. Bonetti is a great physical comedian, but his best comic moment comes when Alan, exasperated because Annette has deadened his attached-at-the ear cell phone by immersing it in a vase of flowers, sinks to the Novaks’s floor in a helpless, inconsolable heap while maintaining the idea of Alan’s in-command crispness.

Sarah Fraunfelder completes the high-quality troupe. In the beginning, Fraunfelder has Annette listening too intently and reacting too broadly to all Veronica is saying. As she settles into Annette, she becomes more natural in going through the character’s paces. Read the full review >>> [Montgomery Theater, 124 N Main Street, Souderton, PA] September 10-October 4, 2015; montgomerytheater.org.

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