If you know of something brilliant, it’s selfish to keep it to yourself, right? That’s why I can’t wait to convince you- beyond any doubt- to go see the ridiculously good Tony award-winning and Broadway hit dark comedy play, God of Carnage, showing the next couple of weeks at The LAB Space theatre.
By first appearances, the set of God of Carnage seems innocuous enough- a plushy, two-seater couch with cushions carefully placed at both ends, a leather armchair, and a green ottoman, all facing inwards towards a small, round table stacked neatly with art and history books.
At the centerpiece rests a blossoming vase of snow white lilies. Everything is neat, clean and pristine- to the effect of conveying an air of ordered perfection.
But what becomes apparent in all but the first minute is that there’s a stiffness to the perfection. We quickly discover that any sense of stability- or normality- is just a glimmering facade.
From the very opening scene, it’s all an incredibly entertaining downward spiral from there on out.
Much like the set, the four protagonists in God of Carnage, a hilarious and thought-provoking play by Yasmina Reza, deceivingly do not, by first appearances, prompt anything in the way of alarm from the audience.
They’re just two sets of average parents, seated in the aforementioned room, speaking rather amicably about an altercation which occurred between their two boys.
Well, as amicably as you can discuss one of their children whacking the others’ with a stick and grotesquely injuring him.
And so it goes that this tense, albeit calm and rational discussion between the characters steers steadily, then abruptly, towards a bumpy road of gritted smiles, uncomfortable silences and sidesplittingly hilarious insults galore. And you listen, awkwardly but captivated, trying to piece together the story which is unfolding.
But don’t get it wrong- this awkwardness should not be seen as a negative thing in the slightest. In fact, it’s the awkwardness which protrudes from the characters’ interactions that makes God of Carnage so wonderful.
Because no doubt, if you come see this play, you will sit as I did, slightly writhing in your seat, trying to pass through the delicious discomfort of characters’ growing distaste for one another. You’ll find yourself beginning to form allegiances, so assured you will be that they are one you should side with.
Until they let you down. And then redeem themselves. Again and again.
Perhaps you’ll vouch for the uptight, pearl-wearing Annette (played by Lesley Hu), who tries her best to be amicable, but holds her cards a bit too close to her chest (at least at the beginning).
Or maybe you’ll side with her painfully work-addicted lawyer husband, Alan (played by Lawrence Ong), whose nonchalant aloofness has a certain element of refreshing honesty.
Then there’s the frighteningly steely Veronica (played by Hui-Shurn Yong) whose seemingly level-headed, albeit conservative approach to the situation seems relatively reasonable at first.
Or her bumbling husband, Michael (played by Derek Kwan) a blue-collar worker who peppers each conversation with well-meaning, but cringe-worthy jokes, may just win you over.
You’ll swing back and forth, toying with your allegiances, until you finally appreciate- that just maybe, they’re all as flawed as each other and really, no one is “right”. You’ll keep reflecting on this for days on after– like I am now- trying to grasp the complexity of each characters’ personality, values, and interactions.
The range of emotions exhibited by both the characters and the audience was a great testament to not only a witty and thought-provoking script, but to the awe-inspiring range of the actors’ skills.
I was honestly left shaking my head in disbelief at how richly Hu, Kwan, Ong and Yong were effortlessly able to convey their very distinct and ever-changing characters. This had the effect of encouraging you to form a strong emotional response to all you see and hear. Whereas in one moment you might catch yourself laughing, the next, you’d be gasping.
Due recognition should also be given to director Jaime Zúñiga. Working closely with the actors, he achieved what every director hopes to- a breaking down of the elusive wall between actor and audience.
It was thrilling to be (just about) right there in the scene, only meters from the set- or, as Zúñiga put it, the boxing ring.
“It’s like being in a boxing match rather than a theatrical space,” he commented of the theatre-in-the-round set, around which audience members are able to sit on any of the four sides for a uniquely intimate, fly-on-the-wall perspective.
There really isn’t a more apt metaphor than a “boxing match” to describe where all the action unfolds. On the sand box floor which grounds the set, each character takes blow after blow of biting insults, are bruised by scathing realities, pick themselves back up to defend themselves, and pack a punch or ten to their opponents with equally bruising truths.
And there you’ll find yourself on the sidelines, leaning in with curiosity and anticipating how on earth the scene could escalate even more.
Heads up- it always does! And that’s the most devilishly addictive part of all.
God of Carnage
June 24/ June 25/ June 26
July 1/ July 2/ July 3
-All shows start at 8:00 p.m. (Doors open 30 minutes before curtain)
How much: $650NT At the door/ $600 Advance online booking
*No assigned seats- All free seating
Where: The Lab Space (實演場)
No 9., Section 1, Beitou Road, Beitou District, Taipei
Nearest MRT: A short 5 minute walk from Qilian MRT Station Exit 2.
All pictures credited to Cheng Yi Lee.
*Disclosure: Typing to Taipei was kindly invited as a guest of The LAB Space to watch God of Carnage. All words and opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own.