God of Carnage: Excavating Modern Day Behavioral Roots

            © Tim Garcia 2020.  

Prepare to be swept away on a frightening journey into the vastly underdeveloped world of mankind in San Jose Repertory Theatre’s production of Yasmin Reza’s “God of Carnage”. The play’s intention, aimed at interpreting the complexity surrounding human development, more specifically our perpetually habitual tendencies to regress back to a barbaric mentality fueled by base emotions and impulses, was effectively portrayed through sharp staging, blocking, the utilization of apparel, the magic of sound and, most significantly, the architectural set design. By the end of the performance audiences are left facing a grim reality that our capacity as humans to exhibit an incomparable savagery, conventionally deemed ancient and draconian, continues to coarse through our veins today.

            Upon entering the theater, audiences face a juxtaposition of modern furniture (sofa, arm-chair, coffee tables and fireplace) and the cave-like fossil backdrop, as well as sand and rocks extending beyond the stage proscenium, that establishes the archaic world engulfing the present day characters. Additionally, the ground flooded with a bold red color evokes the biological legacy these modern homo sapiens have inherited from their primitive ancestors, while the feverish jungle music only enhances audience bewilderment by conjuring exotic wonder and intrigue. In short, the stark contrast of set design elements assists the audience in bridging a correlation between old and new worlds, which are ultimately implied to be one and the same. Moreover, aside from the set design, the inevitable fusion of contemporary and archaic worlds is displayed through the drastic morphing of character interrelations, progressing from amiable discourse to abrasive discord.

            Initially, the recurrent positioning of actors in an arc-shaped formation, or women facing and conversing with one other in the middle while men brood on the sidelines, greatly underscored the moments of suggestive dialogue portraying women as natural mediators. However, this arrangement proves to be short-lived as the argumentative intrusiveness of the male characters incrementally begins to disrupt the balanced formation. Although the extreme depiction of wild, untamed conduct and incendiary language reaches a climax toward the second half of the performance, director Rick Lombardo ensured that the true colors of each character are recognized to be lurking beneath the surface from the play’s inception. For example, when Alan is gorging himself with Clafouti, while meandering through the living room and talking with his mouthful on his cell phone, his lackluster attempt at sweeping crumbs under the coffee table with his foot compels the audience to observe his seemingly innate, crude nature. Additionally, although not mentioned in the script’s stage direction, Annette is seen popping pills in an obstensible attempt to ease her anxiety or annoyance with her husband. This act of self-medicating clearly insinuates the usage of modern means to tame the instinctive, hereditary and dormant beast ready to emerge on a whim in all of us.

            It is only when the explicit animalistic qualities of the characters surface that the audience witnesses dramatic physical contortions, manifestations and costume alterations which also play prominent roles in representing the deterioration or regression of each character. Both Veronica and Annette’s lascivious advances and encounters with the other’s husband, along with Alan’s provocative positioning behind a slumped Veronica as she wrestles to attack Michael, arouses a shameless lust. More specifically, the role of human sexuality acts as another essential element in illustrating human conduct driven solely by low, carnal agitation. Additionally, Annette walking on her feet and knuckles, reminiscient of an ape, as well as Alan sitting “indian-style” similar to a pouting child, reinforces the deterioration of adults to an immature, underdeveloped state. In terms of costumes, the similar actions of Michael and Veronica tearing off their coats in a frenzy, coupled with Annette literally “letting her hair down” and the subsequent rage these actions generate, reflect the deliberate liberation of oneself from the superficial facade of conditioned, social behavior, reverting back to a volatile frame of mind driven by gut impulses.

            The play ends with the revealation of inscriptions on the rocky walls and spotlights featuring each of the characters in various poses in the living room. This final impression accentuates the fact that based on our ancestry, our capability in unleashing impulse-driven maliciousness continues to live on in our biological makeup. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of the prehistoric surroundings and contemporary furniture cleverly alludes to the fact that the human race has never truly developed, and that although we structure and implement behavioral codes of conduct to adhere to on a daily basis, we are constantly susceptible to descend back to a primal state of being. Although the concept cannot be suitably associated with every aspect of the human condition, in the case of humanity’s predisposition in displaying a virulent, ferocious, aggressiveness we have learned that DNA loads the gun, and sociological events pull the trigger.

            Overall, San Jose Repertory Theatre’s take on “God Of Carnage” offers audiences a worthwhile representation of the intricacies of human development, ranging from adopting  learned values through socialization to allowing inherent primal instincts to overwhelm and take control. Although character portrayals undoubtedly had their comedic moments, mostly due to the characters’ outlandish and drunken stupor, the director was routinely effective in revealing the graveness of the issues at the core of the ensuing hilarity. Moreover, the abrupt moments of silence and pause provoked the consciences of audience members by anchoring us back to reality and reminding us of mankind’s universal vulnerability in exhibiting low, animal behavior. In the end, one leaves the performance ultimately identifying with some of the extremely disturbing traits manifested, triggering profound sensations of both sadness and discouragement in the hearts and minds of viewers. Given the fact that the primal behavior of the characters ignites a hotbed of rampant, ugly, viciousness, we can only associate this primitive mentality as the possible origins of mankind’s broadly historical pattern of engaging in destructive conflict while neglecting to address the toxic and fatal ramifications.

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