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Black comedy reflects play’s ‘Carnage’

“God of Carnage” by Tony Award winning playwright Yasmina Reza opened in Europe as a dark, dreary drama. Christopher Hampton, translating to English, revealed an absurdist black comedy and it became a hit.

The fun with this style of play, as with farce, doesn’t always come from dialogue; it’s often found in mistaken identities, near misses, and the slamming of doors. Director Ela Rose, restricted by the size of the Fischer Black Box at Las Vegas Little Theatre, succeeds for the most part by excavating the humor via the actors’ line delivery.

When Annette (Stacia Zinkevich), a financial district worker, and Alan Raleigh (Mark Brunton), a high-powered lawyer, meet up in the living room of Michael and Veronica Novak (T.J. Larsen and Daci Overby), he a hardware entrepreneur, she a writer and art enthusiast, to discuss the playground fight of their 11-year old sons, everything starts out quite convivial, if awkward, and quickly turns nasty.

Couple against couple comes to resemble a veritable ‘round robin’ of epic proportions when arguments and accusations ensue, ranging from misogyny to homophobia; at some point everyone turns against everyone else. At first this might appear to be a very uneven and disjointed script, but it’s this very unevenness that gives the play its power and humor.

Brunton and Larsen both turn in full-bodied performances. Vocally and physically, they hit their stride by giving in with perfect abandon. Brunton gets plenty of laughs in his delivery of Alan’s often droll and honest observations and the raising of an eyebrow, Larsen with Michael’s ever-changing arguments and alliances and a glare at a ringing telephone. They haven’t over-analyzed, seeking motivation of transition, they simply react to the absurdity of the wild swings of subject.

Zinkevich and Overby with many fine moments don’t quite reach the same vocal agility and the pacing suffers. Veronica is haughty and believes herself to be in a moralistic class above. When Annette (a warning for those with weak stomachs) vomits on Veronica’s prized, out of print, limited edition art book, Overby goes over the top. Later, when the prim and high-strung Annette gets drunk, we want her to give over to the emotions that have been brewing beneath the surface, but Zinkevich reins it in. Overall, though, both prove the potential is lurking inside, itching to be set free.

The only true disappointment in the production is the set (un-credited). Costumes and sets do more than establish place and time. They are an extension of the characters. The Novaks are art enthusiasts and express love and loyalty for family, yet there is a lack of dressing that solidifies this. But, the homage to Reza’s earlier play, “Art,” in the form of a blank canvas, partially seen through an archway, is a great touch.

Near the play’s end, Alan, who has been to Africa, in a heated exchange with Veronica, who has simply written about Darfur, gets to the heart of the play when he says he ‘believes in the god of carnage’ because he’s seen it; it exists in all of us. And, as an audience, we’ve observed it through this production.

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