Arts & Entertainment, Features

REVIEW: “God of Carnage” dynamically depicts relationships, failed conflict resolutions

Boston University’s Stage Troupe hosts “God of Carnage” this weekend in the Student Theatre at Agganis Arena. PHOTO BY LEXI PLINE/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Seeping with the vague familiarity of a suburban living room, the set of Boston University Stage Troupe’s “God of Carnage,” which premieres Thursday night at the Student Theater at Agganis Arena, is realistic and reminiscent of a parents’ or grandparents’ home from not too long ago. Tinged with soothing blue and golden hues, it looks lived-in but tidy, the coffee table books meticulously curated and the alcohol on a bookshelf arranged with balanced intent.

Calming as the setting may be, its comfortable implication of amicability is a stark contrast to the looming tension between two sets of parents, instigated by a physical altercation between their sons on a playground. As the first scene begins, a brief light is shown on each of the four actors in a manner not unlike that of the pre-fight introductions of a boxing match. Positioned in something of a lopsided ring, the silent illuminations suggest that the outcome of the day’s events will be much darker and more aggressive than it originally appears to be.

The set and lighting precede any dialogue and cultivate an ominous tone, but it is the contrast between the four characters that establishes the dynamic of the plot. One couple, the parents of the injured child, is earnest and eager to reach a resolution. Michael (Eli Saracino) is a lackadaisical and quirky wholesale representative countered by his composed and somewhat haughty wife, Veronica (Kaitlyn Jones). The other pairing, representing their stick-brandishing son, lacks the same commitment to the proceedings, as Allan, a stuffy lawyer portrayed by Jonny Arruda, frequently interrupts the conversation with business calls, much to the dismay of his eager-to-please wife, Annette (Taylor House).

The first act of the play is a depiction of a composed, orderly conversation on the proper course of action for reaching a resolution without great harm. Several possible resolutions and punitive options are discussed with equanimity, aggravated only by varied interruptions — for food, phone calls and distracted tangents — and Annette’s increasing nausea. Among this more neutral discourse, the initial scenes struggle to find their footing. Nevertheless, a highlight of rapid banter enlivens the first act and introduces a more hectic tension which comes to fruition in the second half of the play.

Act Two is where “God of Carnage” is transformed into a production of worthy engagement and thoroughly engrossing theater; whereas the first thirty minutes of the run were plagued by ambivalence and flustered debate, the subsequent 45 minutes give the play shape, intrigue and strong development. Enhanced by the influence of a quickly diminishing bottle of fine rum, each of the characters experiences a more primitive, peeled-back exposure to one another accented by outbursts of a comic hysteria.

These transformations hinge upon the performances of the four actors of the production, all of which are more than adequate, but some are more extraordinary.

Saracino’s depiction of Michael is the standout performance of the show. His monologue at the beginning of the second act is the ultimate snap which sends the entirety of civilized discussion tumbling into a dark hole of chaos. His portrayal of a sardonic, swaggering and assured father is demanding from the start, and his moments of focus are booming and engaging.

Furthering the strength of Saracino’s performance is that of Jones, who is commanding in her transformation from steady, uptight moderator to a loose and indignant crusader against civility. Although Veronica requires more time to experience a revelation of character, Jones handles the delayed development with ease, making her moments of outburst much more powerful. Together, Saracino and Jones have a captivatingly explosive dynamic which is impossible to ignore.

Perhaps a symptom of Annette’s initially hesitant, nausea-afflicted nature, the complete metamorphosis of her character from subdued people-pleaser to hysterical neurotic is shockingly stark. Nevertheless, the strong acting skills of House make the transformation convincing and entertaining. Even in moments of silence or focus on other characters, House’s facial expressions detail tormented internal conflict and a later abandonment of all inhibition.

In contrast, Arruda’s depiction of a terse Alan remains buttoned-up. Never is Alan’s transformation made clear or even vaguely evident. Lacking in bravado, Arruda cultivates something of an enigma in Alan which is difficult to evaluate throughout the course of the play.

Although certain lulls feel lacking in dynamic and excitement, “God of Carnage” certainly has its merits. The production hinges upon transformation and engaging volatility. It is an entertaining take on the dark comedy, and its conclusion, with no resolved conflict but several realizations of personal and marital faults, inspires a reflection upon the many dissatisfactions of relationships and failed attempts at conflict resolution.

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