God of Carnage

“God of Carnage” Reigns Supreme in CM

By Tom Titus

Community theater simply doesn’t get any better than the production of Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage” currently on stage at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.

With a riveting play by Reza (translated from the original French by Christopher Hampton), superb direction form Michael Serna and outstanding performances by all four cast members, “Carnage” could well have been presented at South Coast Repertory. It’s a professional show in all aspects save for monetary compensation.

The Tony Award-winning comedic drama, staged in 90 intermission-free minutes as it builds up emotional steam, pits two New York couples with contrasting backgrounds and outlooks, against each other in a situation that starts out overly civilized and quickly turns fervently barbaric.

It seems the son of one of the pair has clobbered the son of the other with a stick, loosening two of the kid’s teeth in the process. As the foursome ponder what action should be taken, while stressing courtesy and tact, their innermost feelings begin to emerge and, eventually, snap like the cork on a bottle of champagne. Once the genie’s out of the bottle, so to speak, all Hades ensues.

The host couple, played by Peter Hilton and Jordana Oberman, are the souls of propriety at the outset, while the visitors, Angel Correa and Michelle Pedersen, reside on a higher socio-economic level and radiate forced condescension. Some ill-timed remarks, fueled by enormous quantities of alcohol, knock that detente into the proverbial cocked hat.

While all four performers are excellent, Oberman is positively riveting. Her character – a “think globally” writer studying conditions in Darfur – comes unglued with a vengeance, both at the expense of her guests and her husband, as she mounts a rampaging fury over the offending boy and his snooty, upper-class parents. Her physical energy, in particular, is extremely impressive.

Hilton, as her husband – a wholesaler in kitchen products – maintains his calm demeanor as long as possible until he too erupts with a volcanic rage. He’s recently tossed out his son’s hamster (he can’t stand rodents) and the guilt over that issue mingles with the ill treatment he receives from the others, creating an unsettling environment.

The other kid’s father, played expertly by Correa, is a powerful corporate lawyer seemingly welded to his cell phone, which he insists on answering despite its upsetting effect on the problem at issue. His overarching attitude of superiority ruffles the feathers of the others, even those of his normally supportive wife.

That role, beautifully delivered by Pedersen, ranges from quiet sarcasm to outrageous protests, exacerbated by her reaction to the snack served by her hosts – a furious exhibition of stomach-upsetting agony. Watching her sophisticated veneer crack under pressure is a particular delight.

Director Serna – who also designed the play’s setting, an attractively furnished New York apartment – has wrenched some superior performances from his high-caliber cast. The finished product stands as the finest local community theater production of the year thus far and a lofty bar for other playhouses to strive for.

“God of Carnage” thrusts four contrasting individuals together in a melange whose depth hasn’t been approached since “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” It’s a stunning triumph for all concerned at the Costa Mesa Playhouse. Performances continue weekends through Sept. 28 at the theater, 611 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa (949-650-5269).

– tt —

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