By STEPHANIE OTTEY
“Puking sure seems to have perked you up” says Michael to Annette, and thus sums up the pace and plot behind “God of Carnage,” now playing as a part of the Youngstown Playhouse’s Griffith-Adler series.
The one-act play by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton, is a biting comedy that starts off politically correct and calm, as two pairs of parents meet to discuss an incident between their sons.
James McClellan and Holly Ceci play the parents of Benjamin, an 11-year-old who has hit his classmate in the face with a stick, causing some orthodontic distress.
Brandy Johanntges and Frank Martin represent the victim’s side as the adults meet to smoothly resolve a potentially nasty situation.
Though the mothers engage in a battle of pretension right away, the meeting is controlled by a unanimous desire to keep things civil. Tension builds as Alan [McClellan] displays an obvious lack of concern for the dilemma until his wife, Annette, grows upset to the point of barfing.
Then things “perk up.”
Civility unravels quickly, as precious books are ruined; and a bottle of rum is opened. Teams shift; men pit themselves against the women, husbands and wives collide, and facades are dropped as tension and inebriation rises.
Director Johnny Pecano and his cast successfully build, release, and rebuild the tense energy that makes this production successful.
McClellan’s Alan maintains a laissez-faire attitude from the start, but brightens when carnal instincts kick in. Alan explains the “God of Carnage” with some less-than-subtle analogies, but McClellan uses them to illustrate the passion of his character. He makes wine from water in this role.
Equally delightful is his counter Holly Ceci. Ceci is stoic, only daring to reveal her character with sideways glances until Annette grabs onto the rum. Here Ceci creates a believable, gradual loss of inhibitions that will make you smile.
Brandy Johanntges is striking again as the maniacal Veronica. A multi-faceted character, Johanntges embraces every side of “Ronnie” with a zest that is captivating. She leaves inhibitions behind and creates wonderfully real, crazy emotion on stage.
Amidst this super-strong ensemble cast Frank Martin makes a lasting impression as “everyman” Michael. Martin’s Michael brings honesty and relief to the tightly wound group, making him immediately lovable. He acts as a catalyst for many emotional changes within the cast, and Martin’s natural delivery, and improvisational skills make the audience laugh out loud on multiple occasions.
Director Pecano should be thrilled with his opening night presentation. He offers a show that is simple, but very engaging and relatable.
The set, co-designed by Pecano and Jimmy Lybarger, paints the right picture, and aids in letting the audience know the characters.
This straightforward comedy comes packed with some cussing, and you should save a heavy dinner for after the show, but if you need a laugh, don’t miss “God of Carnage.”