Playground fight fuels play

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“Let’s not get upset about nothing!” spits Veronica, a character in God of Carnage, a satirical play written by Yasmina Reza that’s being staged at the Belfry Theatre until May 20. The play follows the quarrel between two upper-middle class couples: Veronica and Michael Novak, and Annette and Alan Raleigh. The adults raise their fists in a battle over a schoolyard fight between their two sons. God of Carnage, as directed by Glynis Leyshon, points towards the primal nature of adult human interactions, even within modern Western society. With its brilliant script, talented actors and commendable direction, this play will make you examine your own domestic relationships.

Firstly, a standing ovation to Bill Dow as Michael Novak, Vincent Gale as Alan Raleigh, Sarah Orenstein as Veronica Novak and Celine Stubel as Annette Raleigh. Their immaculate portrayals and their stamina through an 85-minute play without intermission were jaw-dropping. They never broke character and kept the audience so engaged that one man almost fell off the balcony from leaning so far forward on opening night. Orenstein’s comedic timing and loud projection made her performance especially strong.

The play opens with the four adults’ stern faces lit up by a MacBook. They are editing a record of the fight between their sons — a fight that resulted in the Novaks’ child losing teeth.

“I had to give him two extra-strength Tylenol!” exclaims Veronica Novak. Within a matter of minutes, social niceties crumble and the adults begin questioning each other’s authority as parents and spouses. At one point, Annette Raleigh criticizes Michael Novak for freeing his son’s hamster. The abandoned hamster becomes a symbol for the animalistic behavior that begins to emerge between the couples.

John Ferguson’s set is neat and symmetrical, with two white Ikea-like couches facing each other, separated by a square coffee table. Real white tulips, simple carpeting and a tiki statue downstage create a sophisticated living room. The set is lit by Guy Simard’s bright, indoor lighting.

Karen Levis has dressed the characters to highlight their contrasting personalities. The eccentric and emotional Veronica Novak wears a zebra-striped shirt tucked into tight slacks, while her timid, snobbish foil Annette Raleigh dons a chic black dress with red-bottomed Louboutins. Buffoonish Michael Novak’s paunch protrudes under a simple polo while arrogant lawyer Alan Raleigh struts about in a tailored suit. Diamond studs glitter under the initially pinned-back hair of both women.

As the argument between the two couples heats up, and the actors’ body language degenerates from that of “members of polite society” (as one character dubs them in the beginning) to “f—king Neanderthals.” A panicked Annette Raleigh vomits all over Veronica Novak’s stack of art history books, and the audience shrieks in shock. Veronica whimpers as she wipes up the mess with a sponge and dustpan. Her husband mocks her dismay by dangling a sopping book in front of his wife, saying, “It looks like People of the Tundra needs another wipe,” which starts the spouse-on-spouse battle. The women’s hairdos come loose; the men unbutton their shirts. Veronica jumps over the coffee table to attack Michael, and Annette dunks Alan’s Blackberry into the tulip vase and smashes the tulips to pieces. After imbibing a considerable amount of rum, the four exhausted adults slump on the couches.

“What do we know?” sighs Michael as the lights fade.

God of Carnage speaks to the ironic evolution — or devolution — of human beings through satirical humor and carefully foiled characters. I saw my ex’s mother in Veronica, my father in Michael, my neighbour in Annette and my mother’s boss in Alan. God of Carnage will give you laughter-induced cramps and make you wonder, “When will this happen to me?”

God of Carnage

The Belfry Theatre

April 17 – May 20

Tickets: $23–$38 (25 per cent student discount)

Box office: (250) 385-6815

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