The play opens with two couples politely discussing the best way forward in dealing with one of their son’s gross misdemeanor: earlier at a park, Ben had hit Henry’s two incisors out with a stick; both were 11 years old. Fifteen minutes into the play, things thankfully start to pick up, with Annette (Ben’s mum, played by Lina Teoh), comically turning nauseous, probably from eating clafouti she was served by Veronica (Henry’s mum, played by Maya Tan Abdullah). She soon starts vomiting all over the place (yes, Lina Teoh actually vomited on stage) including on Veronica’s precious art books, which prompts her hubby Michael (played by Megat Sharizal) to bring out a salvaging hairdryer. Allen, Annette’s hubby (played by a dapper Will Quah) is a lawyer who’s as much distracted by his immediate surroundings as he is by an explosive PR crisis over an errant medication made by a company under his portfolio. Throughout the play we see him answering his mobile phone rudely and repeatedly to deal with his seemingly hopeless subordinates.
While the couples try to find an amicable way of dealing with the boys (whom we never see), each parent has a different idea of what should be done. Veronica, a bleeding-heart liberal writer specialising on Africa, wants Ben to understand the severity of his actions, feel remorse and offer to her son a sincere apology (by his own initiative, naturally). While uptight Annette tries to accommodate, Allen thinks Veronica is overacting—boys will be boys and they should be left to ‘make up’ by themselves. Michael doesn’t want to commit, ‘playing both ends against the middle’, as Veronica puts it.
As the evening progresses, it becomes less and less about the boys and more and more about the couples’ personal and marital problems, each couple at times supporting each other, then a minute later betraying their spouses to take someone else’s side. As alcohol is offered to calm tense nerves and raging tempers, the facade of propriety dissolves and the god of carnage alluded to in the title rules the living room, removing every pretension of loyalty with each one tearing at the other: finding faults, shooting sharp zingers, airing dirty laundry and getting hilariously physical.
While Ben and Henry solved their disagreement quickly with violence, their parents, trying at first to be ‘adults’, end up showcasing the kind of behaviour that is so ridiculously childish, selfish and despicable that only ‘adults’ can manage to display it.
It was during these moments of mad borderline-farce that the actors really shone, putting aside all inhibitions and turning wild, base and Neanderthal, as Michael brilliantly declares. Megat Sharizal as the hen-pecked Michael and Lina Teoh as the intoxicated Annette achieved the unfolding their characters particularly well, ringing-up laughter from the audience when both reveal a little too much about their spouses, helped with one-too-many swigs of rum.
It was towards the end of the play’s run, the crowd on the night I watched was rather small, and Ms. Teoh had to courageously act with a conspicuously bandaged left foot (I later found out from her that she had got the injury from performing the play barefoot the night before after one of her heals broke), so perhaps unsurprisingly I felt the actors seemed tired at times, in part also because Yasmina Reza’s play (translated from the French by Christopher Hampton) drives its points rather repetitively. (I can’t fault them on projection though; all four projected clearly in PJLA’s acoustically unflattering auditorium).
As Allen asks the central question, to Veronica as much as to the audience, ‘Are we really interested in anything but ourselves?’, it dawns on the audience we are watching four very selfish and hypocritical people making fools of themselves. Well, we’ve all been there, those moments where civility is thrown out the window and the savage knives and claws come out with things turning embarrassingly ugly. Yet, just as the audience chases this idea and thinks it’s reaching the finish line, we soon find that the play has run a full circle and is now behind us, and again we’re asked to run the track longer than we had expected. I felt the script was at times repeating the same points in different ways. Perhaps the play would have been less of a merry-go-round in the original language? Je ne sais pas.
These shortcomings aside, I am glad to have caught the play and enjoyed its more brilliant comedic moments. The run for ‘God of Carnage’ has ended, but PJ Laugh Fest at Jaya One’s PJ Live Arts theatre has a brilliant and wide selection of comedy performances running till 5th June 2011. Support Malaysian arts and make sure you catch a show there (or two, three, four…)!