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God of Carnage: A confrontation that could use an update

The entire cast gives solid performances, but of the company, Tony Nappo (cenre) has the most entertaining transformation.

Josie Di Luzio

2.5 out of 4 stars

Title
God of Carnage
Written by
Yasmina Reza
Genre
Comedy
Directed by
Joel Greenberg
Actors
John Bourgeois, Linda Kash, Tony Nappo, Sarah Orenstein
Venue
Panasonic Theatre
City
Toronto
Runs Until
Sunday, December 15, 2013

Toronto missed the moment on Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage.

The French playwright's comedy about a confrontation between two couples who meet after their 11-year-olds have a violent scuffle in a park has been conquering the world since its 2006 premiere in Zurich.

Veronica (Linda Kash) and her husband Michael (Tony Nappo) have the moral high ground – it's their boy who lost two teeth – and home-court advantage. They've invited Annette (Sarah Orenstein) and Alan (John Bourgeois, worth casting for his name alone) over to their apartment to discuss the damage and repercussions in a civilized manner: No police, no principals, no lawyers.

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But the upper-middle-class couples are on a collision course: Veronica is a humanitarian writer who has penned a book on Darfur, while Alan is a corporate lawyer working for the pharmaceutical industry. They get under each other's skin pretty quickly.

If you've ever seen a play, you'll see where this is going – the coffees are exchanged for rum and the adults gradually begin to behave like children. Reza does offer a couple of clever twists on the verbal assaults, however, as well as moments of carnage involving coffee-table books and cellphones that are decidedly cathartic. And it all wraps up in a tidy 90 minutes.

Of the company, Nappo has the most entertaining transformation – he complains he has been "dressed up as a liberal" by his wife but soon removes his jacket and shows his true colours. He stalks the stage with demonic glint in his eye once the disguise is off – and his revelling in the thrill of battle is infectious.

Under the direction of Studio 180's Joel Greenberg – who covered similar satirical territory with the richer Clybourne Park last year – the entire cast gives solid performances, though Kash's pique perhaps peaks too soon.

God of Carnage arrives as the first show in the second season of the new Off-Mirvish Series – a series of edgier local and international works that might be called the F-Mirvish Series. (They're plays that have too many F-words in them for the commercial company's regular subscription audience.)

Mirvish has had the Toronto English-language rights to Reza's play for ages, but they waited too long to take advantage of them – it has been everywhere in Canada from Halifax to Vancouver already and made into a movie in the meantime.

The least Torontoian audiences could have got in exchange for the wait was a new localized version of the play. Translator Christopher Hampton has relocated the play from Paris a number of times – to London for the British premiere, to Brooklyn for the Broadway production, to Dublin for the Irish premiere. Here, we get the 2009 Broadway version, though the dialogue retains a French flavour. (No one says "On the contrary!" this much in any part of the English-speaking world.)

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Canada has direct links to France – so there's really no excuse for us to have to import a French play via this route (though, I recognize, there's an audience here that salivates for anything that comes from New York, or is going there).

More importantly, though, God of Carnage comes to town (in English; it already played here in French in 2011) after two years of national debate over bullying – primarily online – so that makes the play's scuffle-in-a-park scenario seem out of touch and renders its sardonic tone off-key. The fact that adults can be bullies as well as kids is now a cliché.

With respect to the good production on offer here (and John Thompson's lovely, red set), the conversation has moved on – and Reza's "we're all Neatherthals under the surface" angle seems more reactionary than ever.

Follow me on Twitter: @nestruck

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