Hendersonville – Shake-ups, flare-ups, put-downs, and meltdowns all abound in God of Carnage at Flat Rock Playhouse.
Best of all, this amusing romp about relationships has one sitting so close that one feels part of the fast-paced action and emotional intensity. FRP unveils its new “black box” series with two plays—dark comedy God of Carnage and two-man drama Blood Knot. They alternate times through Oct. 8-9. The Leiman Mainstage’s center has a slightly elevated, boxing ring-like mini-stage with four rows of jammed-together folding chairs on all four sides.
This extra-close “theater in the round” experience beats the larger three-fourths seating of the Playhouse Downtown that FRP recently operated.
You are merely four feet from Flat Rock Funnyman Scott Treadway, if sitting in the front row at stage left. You see in detail his facial expressions and gestures, as he looks upstage at other characters. Treadway evolves from familiar nerdy silliness to snide remarks we crave from this deadpan dandy. He often sits in the chair at lower stage left, as one of four actors in God of Carnage. A chair is in each corner.
Blood Knot co-star Arusi Santi told the Tribune that when performing with the audience so close, “I hear everything. It enhances it for me. The audience is an unseen part of the show.” He delivers more subtleties in voice and expression since the audience can see and hear much.
Black box seating is general admission by section, opening a half-hour ahead of showtimes. Patrons are required to wear sanitary masks since they sit so close to actors – per actor union guidelines.
All Four Stars Shine
One might say the play rates a perfect five stars due to its four stars and Lisa K. Bryant directing their confrontations in a small space. The cast has two couples set in contemporary Brooklyn, N.Y. Treadway is salesman Michael Novak. Marcy McGuigan portrays his blonde wife Veronica, a polite host to the two guests.
Their son Henry lost two teeth after Benjamin, also age 11, smacked him with a stick on a playground. Brendan Powers and Rachel Burttram are Benjamin’s parents, Alan and Annette Raleigh. Benjamin said little to them about the incident, but indicated why he attacked Henry. Was that justifiable? Both parents argue for mitigating circumstances for their sons’ actions.
Burttram sparkles in her FRP debut. She unleashes a surprise with special effects. Her character Annette makes the biggest turnaround from sweet to sour. She ends up shouting, “My son did well to clout yours!”
Discussion in the Novak home is initially civil—over how to get the two lads to talk out and settle their dispute. Debate emerges over which child is more at fault, how much if any punishment each deserves, and attacks on each other’s parenting values and priorities.
Each couple unites against the other two at first, defending their son. But as they drink more and more rum, each of the four turns on each of the other three characters, in clever and fast-paced exchanges. Even Nibbles, the pet hamster, is dragged into disputes. Tempers flare. Pillows fly.
Veronica is a problem drinker. She gets miffed when Michael refuses to also serve her rum. She serves herself the libation, then serves Michael an appetizer of insults. Earlier, she called Benjamin a “public menace.” She chastises her husband for “vacillating” and trying too much to understand the other side.
Michael switches from a “spirit of reconciliation” to counter-attacking. He angrily says Benjamin is a “snitch” on his own son, who deserved the verbal abuse that led to the attack. He mocks a mishap by Annette. Michael feels caught on a “shitty slope” of life.
Alan is quite the alpha male. He advocates for himself and his son “the law of life” — might be right. I believe in the God of Carnage. ” After Michael calls Alan’s son a “thug,” Alan acknowledges his offspring is a “savage” — with no interest in reforming Benjamin.
“We’ll reprimand our child as we want,” his wife Annette says, to the pressuring of the Novaks, as part of their parenting debate.
high-powered attorney Alan moves intimidatingly close to the smaller Michael. Reconciliation seems nil since Alan is cut-throat in tactics and opposes admitting fault. We find that out from the zillion cell phone calls from Murray that Alan instinctively answers.
Alan thus rudely interrupts the two couples’ discussions about their sons. Annette laments how “men are so wedded to their gadgets.” What she does to that cell phone emotionally shatters Alan into a quivering catatonic state. When he stomps on the floor, patrons feel it shake the entire stage.
Alan softens a bit later on. He is chatting with Murray about defending a pharmaceutical client regarding a drug that Alan admits to Murray seems dangerous. The Novaks overheard this admission. Michael calls the drug “crap you’re peddling.” Yet, in a redeeming action, Alan agrees to talk Michael’s mother out of trying the medication.
This 82-minute play is in one act, with no intermission. God of Carnage won the Tony in 2009 for best play. The French playwright Yasmina Reza wrote the original script. It translates well into a hilarious comedy with serious insights.
For links to purchase $55 tickets to God of Carnage and Blood Knot, visit https://www.flatrockplayhouse.org.