MODESTO — Those rich, sophisticated married couples you've seen? They can lose their tempers, too. When pressed, they might even curse, throw things and pummel each other.
That's the joke of Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage," winner of the 2009 Tony Award for best play, now running at Prospect Theater Project in Modesto.
Called "a comedy of manners without the manners" in the Broadway poster, the play centers on two Brooklyn, N.Y., couples who meet to talk about a playground fight between their two 11-year-old boys. The discussion starts out polite and reasonable and ends with everyone drunk and the apartment in disarray.
Prospect director Jack Souza has cast an all-star quartet of actors to appear in the Modesto production, and they have a lot of fun playing these childish characters. Megan "Emme" Cardenas, Mark Dooley, Kathleen Ennis and Christopher Volkerts got lots of laughs at Friday's opening performance for their petty arguments and over-reactions. All experienced performers, they resist the temptation to devolve into non-stop yelling. Instead, they are confident enough to pause at times and deliver quiet, snarky remarks.
How entertaining you will find this will depend on how much you enjoy watching people bicker. The couples bicker with each other and among themselves. Then the women team up and bicker with the men. Some may find this too close to ordinary life and more than a little boring. Is it really interesting or surprising that some married couples like to fight?
Fortunately the show is blessedly short only one hour and 17 minutes without an intermission. By the time anyone gets fidgety, it's over.
Souza's set is excellent as usual. The stage is set in the middle of the audience and features a gorgeous wood floor with high-end furniture and art books spread about.
Cardenas initially fills the role of the voice of reason as Annette, the financial broker who is the mother of the violent boy in the fight. But after a few drinks of rum, she unravels. Dooley is cynical and gruff as her husband Alan, a lawyer who represents a shady pharmaceutical firm. He annoys everybody in the play with his constant business cell phone calls that interrupt the parental discussion. The phone calls are some of the funniest parts of the play, with Dooley advising the company to suppress reports that one drug may have dangerous side effects.
Ennis is bossy and self- righteous as Veronica, the mother of the victimized boy and a writer who is working on a book on the Darfur crisis in western Sudan. As hen-pecked husband Michael, Volkerts takes it all amiably at first but then comically turns on her and embraces his cave man side.
It's a credit to Prospect Theater Project that this production is more engaging than the sleep-inducing 2011 Roman Polanski-directed film version "Carnage," featuring Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christopher Waltz. The show succeeds in making fun of modern-day marriage and the lengths some people will go to prove themselves right.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2313. Follow her on Twitter, @MilleganRenner.
WHERE: Prospect Theater Project, 520 Scenic Drive, Modesto
WHEN: Through March 3; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
RUNNING TIME: 1 hour 17 minutes, no intermission
INFORMATION: (209) 549-9341 or www.prospecttheaterproject.org
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