Reza, who won her first Tony in 1998 for the sophisticated and slightly polarizing “Art,” supplies her most commercial, relatable work to date with “God of Carnage,” a sharp examination of self-righteous parenting and affluent arrogance set inside the attractive home of Michael (Tim Lile) and Veronica (Jennifer Johansen). As the uncouth, destructive sparks fly in Michael and Veronica’s battle with Alan (Rob Johansen) and Annette (Jennifer Joplin) as well as each other, it’s easy to pigeonhole the play as needlessly mean-spirited and over-the-top. However, both well-defined couples, who deceptively appear sensible and accepting at the outset, are justifiably cruel and damaged at the core. Underneath their hysterical facades, they have loveless marriages, bleak futures and no intention to truly agree for the greater good. In 90 engrossing minutes, Reza astutely peels away the hypocritical layers of four incredible fools who presume to know everything when in fact they know nothing.
Director Margarett Perry, expertly establishing an uneasy atmosphere that ebbs and flows between awkward tension and frenzied chaos, assembles a naturally compatible, first-rate quartet. The always striking Jennifer Johansen, rivaling the luminous ferocity of Marcia Gay Harden in the extraordinary original Broadway production, is simply outstanding as a domineering, highly intellectual and startlingly overprotective mother whose interest in Africa is particularly challenged beyond her expectations. Lile, so adept at physical comedy, humorously unleashes Michael’s fatherly pride, frustrated disgust and surprising bigotry. Rob Johansen, Jennifer’s real-life husband, provides a fine example of an annoying workaholic lawyer who would rather cling to his cell phone than his wife. Joplin wonderfully reveals the feistiness brewing below Annette’s unassuming persona.
Additionally, David A. Centers’ stylishly sleek set ranks among his best designs. The contributions of costumer Lacee Rae Hart, lighting designer John Rensel, sound designer Matthew P. Benjamin and properties master Heather Powell are also commendable.
“God of Carnage,” opening the Human Race’s 25th anniversary season, will arrive this fall on the big screen re-titled “Carnage,” directed by Oscar winner Roman Polanksi and featuring Oscar nominee John C. Reilly and Oscar winners Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet (see trailer below). Polanksi’s version sounds promising, but the Human Race undoubtedly proves how audacious, entertaining and shocking Reza’s creation can be.
God of Carnage continues through Sept. 25 at the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. The play is performed in 90 minutes without intermission. A special forum discussion will be held following the Sunday, Sept. 18 performance. Tickets are $18.50-$40. However, as part of the celebration of the Human Race’s 25th anniversary season, there is also a ‘25-for-25’ ticket option with the 25 seats at each end of the Loft Theatre available for just $25 at every performance. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com
In related news, Jake Lockwood, who has appeared in such Human Race productions as ‘Rounding Third’ and ‘The 39 Steps,’ will conduct a free family improv workshop Saturday, September 24 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery’s Dayton Regional Science Festival. The Boonshoft Museum of Discovery is located at 2600 DeWeese Parkway. For more information, call (937) 275-7431 or visit www.boonshoftmuseum.org