2011-04-21 / Hap Erstein

Caldwell’s “God of Carnage” offers first-rate design, performances

You could call Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning play “God of Carnage” a comedy of manners, as long as you emphasize that they are almost entirely bad manners. But this French playwright of Iranian extraction understands the alchemy of turning bad manners into very good theater.

She worked a similar trick a little over a decade ago — and won her first Best Play Tony — for “Art,” the clash of three longtime buddies whose friendship is forever altered when one of them buys an expensive, yet minimalist painting.

You can think of “God of Carnage” as “Art” on steroids. The permutations of savagery increase as two married couples, well-off residents of Brooklyn’s gentrified Cobble Hill neighborhood, meet over coffee and a precious pastry known as clafouti to quietly and rationally discuss the consequences of a violent playground scuffle between their 11-year-old sons.

Kim Ostrenko, Nick Santa Maria, Kim Cozort and Michael Serratore portray two married couples in the high energy, profane production. 
COURTESY PHOTO Kim Ostrenko, Nick Santa Maria, Kim Cozort and Michael Serratore portray two married couples in the high energy, profane production. COURTESY PHOTO Be assured that the civility does not last long, and that is when the fun begins in a high-energy, highly profane production at Boca Raton’s Caldwell Theatre, playing through May 15.

The disintegration of decorum is exactly the point, as four nimble performers reduce a tidy, upscale living room to shambles in an efficient 85 intermissionless minutes. Guest director Kenneth Kay orchestrates the proceedings with skill and humor, moving his cast about the stage as their characters gang up on each other, forming and switching alliances as the situation requires.

Veronica (Kim Cozort), a writer devoted to art and to humanitarian causes, begins with an effort to reconstruct the events that led to her son Henry being hit in the face by his classmate Benjamin, losing two teeth in the process. Financial compensation is not what she seeks, as much as an admission of Ben’s guilt and maybe an apology.

But Alan, Ben’s father (Nick Santa Maria), is an attorney. That means that when he is not talking on his cell phone, managing damage control for his dubious pharmaceutical client, he is arguing with Veronica over her word choices.

Alan’s wealth management specialist wife, Annette (Kim Ostrenko), initially embarrassed by his lack of interest in their son’s altercation, soon becomes physically ill from the stress of the situation.

Credit Reza with inserting the best instance of onstage projectile vomiting within memory, and props to technical director Tim Bennett for rigging up such persuasive puke.

Ultimately, though, the play revolves around Veronica’s husband Michael, a coarse, but direct purveyor of wholesale household goods. Or at least it seems that way, because of the standout performance by Michael Serratore as the tell-it-like-it-is affable host, who knows the value — and danger — of getting everyone drunk.

As the alcohol level and the “f” bombs increase, it brings to mind another tale of living room blood-letting, Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” the dramatic flip side of Reza’s romp.

The Caldwell’s reputation for first-rate design work remains intact, notably for Bennett’s living room-cum-wrestling ring-cum-sandbox set.

It is a tribute to Reza’s writing quality that you will probably identify with one of more of these characters, even if you have never been a parent. Or more likely, you will leave the Caldwell with a wide grin on your face, insisting that you know people just like these people. ¦

in the know

>> GOD OF CARNAGE, Caldwell Theatre Co., 7901 N. Federal Hwy., Boca Raton. Through May 15. Tickets: $27-$50. Call: 241-7432.

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