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God of Carnage: A Great Cocktail of a Comedy

God of Carnage - Jean Paul Menou, Deanne Allgrove, Julene Robinson, Alwyn Scott

Staging a great play is pretty much like creating a good cocktail: it’s all about the right ingredients in the right proportion. Since re-introducing the University Players, Director Brian Heap has usually stuck with a great recipe, that has often produced delicious results. Take a well-crafted play and gifted actors, stir gentle and serve on an interesting set, accompanied by good lighting. The University Players’ recent staging of Yasmin Reza's God of Carnage (translated by Christopher Hampton) followed this recipe to a ‘t’ and the result was an enjoyable, smooth evening of theatre, that like any good cocktail is an experience worth repeating.

Deanne Allgrove and Julene Anderson contrast beautifullyGod of Carnage is a smartly written, well-devised comedy that builds beautifully towards its crescendo when all the characters pretenses, in part helped by healthy servings of rum, fall apart and leave them bare and trembling in the light. As with some of the best comedy, it works best by showing us at a our most fallible, neurotic and vulnerable. 

Taking place across a single afternoon, God of Carnage unfolds when two couples (Veronica and Michael Novak and Annette and Alan Raleigh) are brought together after an altercation between their sons. At the start, both couples are trying to be conciliatory and accommodating but as tensions build, the manners fall out the window and their true selves are revealed. 

God of Carnage is the kind of play that is so beautifully nuanced that it needs actors comfortable in their craft to bring it to fruition. The cast, Deanne Allgrove, Jean-Paul Menou, Alywn Scott and Julene Robinson delivered beautifully.

Alwyn Scott delivers a pitch perfect performanceIndeed, Scott’s performance as the crass, often insensitive, work-obsessed Alan is so pitch-perfect that he can be forgiven for almost ruining his career by becoming associated with the mind-numbingly bad A Small Room. Fortunately, Scott is kind of like Morgan Freeman, even when he’s in a terrible production, he comes off well. In God of Carnage, surrounded by other talented actors, Scott shines beautifully, quickly becoming that character you want to kick while he’s down. 

Even so, to say that Scott was ahead of this pack, must be contextualized, because this is a very good pack, and because it is ensemble cast, each works to highlight the other.

Jean Paul Menou and Alywn ScottDeanne Allgrove doesn’t make to the Jamaican stage often, but this performance makes you want to see much more of her. Allgrove, plays Veronica Novak, a liberal who eventually proves to not be so liberal when she is pushed. She is particularly interesting to watch as she declares how easy it is for her to spot a phony, while being completely blind to her own phoniness. 

Julene Anderson is easily one of Jamaica’s strongest young actresses, with an impressive stack of fine performances now to her credit. Her role as Annette Raliegh mades a good addition to this list. From her opening moments, Annette is clearly tightly wound with far too much pent up emotions. She clutches her handbag with a ferocity that suggests she will snap and any moment and when she finally explodes you want to look away but can’t. 

Michael Novak is possibly the only character that doesn’t fall apart, and that is probably because he is so extraordinarily ordinary, frustrating the audience with his wishy-washiness almost as much as he frustrates his wife. Initially appearing to be a happily hen-pecked husband, Michael soon unveils his own happiness with his life and marriage. It is the kine of solid and quiet role that Jean Paul Menou plays with his eyes closed. 

God of Carnage uses a simple set (designed by Heap) which is perfectly suited to the play, the lighting design (Nadia Roxburgh) also underscores without overshadowing the action.When manners go out the window we are not so civilized after all

Heap has to be commended for this staging, which is energetic and dynamic. The characters are almost always arrange in a visually engaging tableau that organically adds to the verbal drama taking place. Julene Anderson delivers another winning performance

This staging of God of Carnage is Heap’s stepping out/down party, his last production with the University Players as head of the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, as he steps into the world of post-retirement. The play was a worthy last hurrah, although we suspect that Heap will be back. 

God of Carnage played at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts May 9 - 24, 2015 in Kingston.