Check out our interview with Kim Tobin and Kay Allmand.
The set-up: What could be better in the theater than adults behaving badly? How about four of them? And what if the two married couples, seeming normal and under control, swiftly descend into the most uncivil behavior that is also screamingly funny? Scratch these yuppies and you'll discover underneath a jungle heart of darkness.
In Stark Naked Theatre's sterling production of Yasmina Reza's Tony Award-winner,The God of Carnage, the laughs and the barbarity don't just come in waves, they spew. This is the fastest one-and-a-half hours on stage, a non-stop, in-your-face comedy that doesn't blink and keeps getting more outrageous by the minute. Six Flags' cyclone is tame by comparison.
The execution: The fun begins as Veronica and Michael (Kim Tobin and Drake Simpson) invite Annette and Alan (Kay Allmand and John Gremillion) over to their smartly adorned Brooklyn apartment -- Jodi Bobrovsky's sleek set design abounds with animal prints, African jugs, and primitive art, to seal the idea of the jungle subtext-- to "talk over" their sons' playground altercation.
As both marriages veer out of control, insults are hurled like poisoned-tipped spears, cell phones get dunked, copious amounts of rum are drunk, a lovely display of tulips is decapitated, Veronica tackles Michael when loyalties shift tectonically, and Annette hurls all over Veronica's limited, and beloved, edition of Kokoschka prints. The suddenness and comic ferocity of Annette's projectile vomiting, as well as the astonished reactions from the audience, is the set piece for which this comedy is so noted. It's the perfect metaphor for middle-class values as they corkscrew downhill.
This adult-rated Punch and Judy show wouldn't have half the punch without a four-star cast ready and willing to go for broke. Under Justin Doran's meticulously fluid direction, the ensemble quartet is pitch-perfect.
High-minded and socially conscious, Tobin's Veronica can't believe that the others don't take life as seriously as she does. She's the first to crack. Very near the end, she spits out, "This is going to end badly." It's classic, comic understatement.
Simpson plays rumpled dinosaur Michael with furious sputtering, which only makes him that much more absurd. Allmand, dressed to the nines by costumer Tiffani Fuller in chic red and black as Annette, has shallow down pat. She's pulled together so tight, though, that once she spews, all control is hopelessly lost. She gets plastered and takes out her gleeful fury on hubby.
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Gremillion, always so memorable on the musical stage, gives master of the universe Alan, boasting and smug, a spine of sponge. When his irritating cell phone is snatched out of his hands and drowned in the tulip vase, he goes all limp and wimpy. Once this control freak loses his toy, all life goes out of him.
Not that these defeats stop any of them from continuing the battle. As in war, alliances merge, change sides, or stand stubbornly apart. By the end, no one wins, nothing is settled, Henry still has his two teeth missing, and Nibbles the hamster -- cast out of the house earlier by Michael -- remains lost on the streets of Brooklyn, shell-shocked and on his own. Much like these four.
The verdict: If you ever thought that civility and good manners might save our world, Yasmina Reza's comedy will slap that thought right out of your head. Her furious comedy, scrumptiously animated by Stark Naked, zings with bitchy wit and inglorious political incorrectness. It leaves you breathless from laughing, but not so winded as to forgo a standing ovation for these four intrepid interpreters who could not be better.
Yasmina Reza's riotous comedy of marital dysfunction romps through March 9 at Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street. Purchase tickets online at starknakedtheatre.com or call 832-866-6514. $10-$20.