Powerful Invictus production features an excellent cast
What starts out as a civilized and measured discussion about a fight between two boys rather quickly devolves into chaos in the Invictus Theatre Company production of God of Carnage. The 2008 play by Yasmina Reza was originally written in French, but in this translation by Christopher Hampton, it’s easy to see how it’s been a popular work to produce in America.
This is only the third production by Invictus, which is staging this show at the Aurora People’s Theatre, but they picked a winner not just in the material but in casting it with four actors ideally suited to the roles. Annette and Alan (Bevin Antea and Andrew Neary) are the parents of Henry, who hit his friend Benjamin in the face hard enough that it damaged a couple of his teeth. The pair show up at the home of Veronica and Michael (OD Duhu and Todd Black) who, while they have the moral high ground as the parents of the victim, nonetheless follow Annette and Alan right down a grubby rabbit hole of recrimination that ultimately yields a lot more unpleasant information about the adults than it ever does about the boys.
Working with a black-box setting, director Kryssi Martin makes do with just a few bits of furniture and a handful of props while relying on this excellent cast to tell the story. There are a few scenes where the lights shift and the actors square off in four corners that were a bit distracting, but mostly the focus is kept on how the two couples get drawn into an extended conversational hellscape that comes from seriously overthinking things.
The core of God of Carnage comes from stripping away the artifices we employ in polite society until the unspoken is said aloud and the shitty, grasping animal inside us all is revealed for what it is. Michael is the first to show his true colors, initially through the action of his mistreatment of a family pet but later with simple declarations about his disdain for much of what surrounds him — including his family. Black is a ton of fun to watch in this role, especially as he starts to change sides in alignment with Alan. The character is meant to teeter on the edge, and Black does a really nice job showing both the initial, barely contained restraint as well as the eventual lapse into raw ugly.
Neary is spot-on as the irritating lawyer who’s constantly interrupting the conversation by taking calls on his cellphone, and Veronica eventually lets us know this is a constant thing in their lives. As the kind of attorney who’s defending a pharmaceutical company that’s obviously been peddling bad medicine, Alan is, among the four, the one most aware of human failing. Neary plays him with a sort of detached bemusement who’s ready for whatever’s next and, as such, sets up his own precipitous fall as a true surprise.
Whatever roles the two women might have in moderating their husbands’ bad behavior is quickly dispatched with their own descents. Veronica starts off as the most PC, the most even-tempered of the crew, and Duhu plays her beautifully as a woman doing her best to keep things civil. It’s shockingly hilarious, then, when her breaking point has her leaping onto Michael’s back to try to shut him up.
Annette has her own interesting journey. Starting off as the foil to Alan’s dominant personality, she hits a turning point when the stress of the encounter causes her to barf all over the coffee table. After this, inhibition is gone and Antea has a fine time portraying Annette as a woman unbound by whatever came before, and she mirrors to some extent the freedom Michael is also experiencing.
Along the way, God of Carnage hits on all the hot spots: racism, homophobia, domestic abuse, bad parenting … you name it. It feels like the play is trying to tell us that this collection of garbage dwells within us all, and that the only moderating factor is how well we keep it contained. If nothing else, the story is about what happens when some of that junk is allowed to pop out and how quickly things can unravel when we relinquish the social mores keeping them in.
This one may not exactly fortify one’s belief in the goodness of humankind, but it rings true in ways that are as disturbing as they are funny. The Invictus production is a testament to the fact that you don’t need a fancy production to create a great show. A good script, taut direction and a great cast are all you need.
If you go
What: ‘God of Carnage’ by Yasmina Reza
Where: The People’s Building, Aurora
Presented by: Invictus Theatre Co.
Runtime: 80 minutes, no/int
Directed by: Kryssi Martin
Featuring: Bevin Antea, Todd Black, OD Duhu, Andrew Neary