We find out at the start of Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage that eight-year-old Francois has knocked his schoolmate Bruno’s incisors out. In this absurdist comedy, the two sets of parents meet to discuss the situation. On one side, we have Veronica (Cleopatra Boudreau) and Michelle (Rebecca Bauer), a lesbian couple that drips forward thinking social justice. On the other, Alan (Ryan Downey) and Annette (Annie Luján), the uppity career duo wound so tight, they’ve forgotten how to move their lower jaws. What begins as a rather uncomfortable well-intentioned negotiation soon unravels as the facade of politesse drops in the face of micro-aggressions.
Director Noah Drew updates the original show to fit into the world of Montreal and decorously uses physical theatre and music to increase the absurdist ante. Most things about this production are solid . The actors are on point, with perfect comedic timing. Lighting and music are judicially utilized to increase the emotional tension, or even diffuse it. Even the costumes show consideration. As good as the acting is, the actors are at their best in scenes where they step into choreography, such as when Michelle and Alan square off over plumbing fixtures, while Veronica and Annette play the role of secubic cheerleaders.
The play starts a little tepidly as Michelle and Veronica ready their home for the arrival of the other couple. They adjust and re-adjust art books, African sculptures, and pillows. This is my chief complaint, in fact. The scene is not effective in bringing out their respective characters — Veronica is a socially conscious earth mother, while Michelle is more ambiguously weird, and perhaps intended as a DIY gadgets nerd. Instead, the dominant force of their identity is in being lesbians, an identity that works well when the two couples are contrasted, but doesn’t fully allow Michelle and Veronica to oppose one another.
Fortunately, the arrival of Alan and Annette kicks the play into action. The two are not only easily recognizable, but also more fully rounded. Alan is glued to his phone with a pharmaceutical client facing a lawsuit. His belief that an altercation between two eight-year-olds is of relative unimportance comes through in his every gesture and word. Swilling rum or eating cake, he’s a portrait of a man unaccustomed to petty human disputes solved outside money and legal lingo. Annette seethes in her Jackie-O armour at her husband’s indifference, burdened by responsibilities that require his input. These two are a perfectly matched in their tango of tension, a pair standing on the boundary of contempt, bound in a shared sense of superiority.
After some polite chit chat about daffodils and a deceased hamster, the couples share clafoutis and espresso. The initial awkwardness fades and the pants come down. Literally. When Annette vomits, Alan strips off his pants and an orgy not of sex, but of sub-surface hostility, begins. It is masterfully handled, as the actors oppose each other in triads and dyads, wielding wit and self-righteousness as weapons.
Overall, this is a gutsy, entertaining show is well done and allows the audience to appreciate its multifaceted messages. Not only is it clever and humorous, but it has much to say about human nature. The premise contrasts the simplicity of a childhood altercation with the psychological tactics that adults use. For a big show in a small space, so long as one can appreciate the limitations of indie theatre, this production worth seeing.
God of Carnage is at the Freestanding Room (4324 St Laurent) from May 3-6 and 10-13 at 8 p.m., and May 13 at 2 p.m. Tickets $15/12. See HERE.