The Dallas Theater Center is staging the regional premiere of God of Carnage. The show won a Tony for best new play and was made into a film released earlier this year. It’s a comedy, but one that explores some of the darker elements of our humanity.
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God of Carnage begins with music by the Italian ensemble New Trolls. It gives us the idea that the two couples we’re about to meet are sophisticated and refined. In fact, they are so civilized they’ve agreed to meet at one of their apartments to discuss an incident involving their sons. One of the boys injured the other with a stick.
But it doesn’t take long before the adults have their knives out, tearing each other to shreds – through their words.
In the Dallas Theater Center production, Hassan El-Amin plays Michael, who is hosting this get-together with his wife, Veronica, played by Christie Vela. During one of the many derailments from the business at hand, he is forced to defend himself for the way he handled his child’s pet hamster. His guests, Alan and Annette, have little sympathy.
MICHAEL: “Veronica, I find it intolerable to be on trial all of a sudden for this hamster saga that you’ve seemed fit to reveal. It is a personal matter, which is no one else’s business but ours, and which has NOTHING to do with the present situation! And I find it incomprehensible to be called a killer in my own home!
VERONICA: “What’s your home got to do with it?”
MICHAEL: “My home! The doors of which I have opened, the doors of which I have opened wide in the spirit of reconciliation to people who ought to be grateful to me for it!”
ALAN: “It’s wonderful the way you keep patting yourself on the back.”
Joel Farrell is directing the play for the Theater Center
FARRELL: “The crux of the show is the primal survival mode, animal-human that lives down in all of us that we would love to believe we have complete control over. But, in fact, seemingly minor things can bring up the animal.”
Yasmina Reza wrote the play in her native French and it’s been performed around the world in various languages since its 2006 debut. The original Broadway cast included Hope Davis, Jeff Daniels, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay-Harden, each of whom was nominated for a Tony. This year’s film version – called simply Carnage – attracted an equally talented foursome of Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet.
Part of the attraction for the actors is that God of Carnage offers many challenges. Though it’s just 76 minutes long, it’s performed with no intermission. Once it starts, there’s no rest for anyone. It’s theater in its most basic form, with a single set, the actors and their words.
Sally Nystuen-Vahle plays Annette, who’s married to Alan, played by Chris Hury.
NYSTUEN-VAHLE: “It feels rigorous to me in the same way that playing Shakespeare feels rigorous. There’s a rhythm to the language and a muscularity … it asks you to rise to meet it rather than you asking it to come to you.”
God of Carnage is a comedy, but it’s one that will have some in the audience squirming in their seats. If you’re honest, you may see more of yourself than you’d like to admit in the characters
NYSTUEN-VAHLE: “It gets past the surface stuff of being a person and down into the underbelly – those dark places that we work really hard not to reveal most of the time. … I’ve been joking and saying, ‘Come see the show – you’ll feel so much better about your own marriage! I don’t know how true that is for everybody…”
For an hour or so, we watch these grownups allow their base instincts to override their more collegial selves.
And when it’s all over, hitting someone with a stick seems downright refined.