God of Carnage: A Big Little Play from Arizona Theatre Company -- Plus, an Opportunity for a Christmas Miracle

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There are other things to do this weekend besides shopping and decorating. In fact, it's a great time to get out and see theater, between lots of locals being out of town and the rest of us maybe spending more time with our loved ones over a four-day period than we strictly would choose to (not that we aren't thankful).

Speaking of uncivilized behavior, French playwright Yasmina Reza is the reigning queen of depicting exactly how shallow our veneers are and how little it takes to bring those walls of gentility down. Her enormously popular plays Art, Life X 3, and 2009's God of Carnage are deceptively simple in structure, with small casts, lifelike dialogue, and self-contained sets.

They're not written as comedies. In fact, a real person might need a course of inpatient therapy after living through any of Reza's situations, innocuous as they seem at the outset (a friend buys a painting, a colleague comes to dinner, two children have a fight). But audiences laugh, almost incessantly, while still receiving a dose of insight that respects their intelligence.

Arizona Theatre Company's current production of God of Carnage is a winner -- beautifully cast and acted, impeccably designed, and achingly funny. Two sets of parents come together to discuss their sons' behavior, and alliances fracture along every possible fault line.

The core message is not at all subtle; the dialogue literally asserts that we are savages whose instincts ultimately cannot be denied.

The one character who clings the longest to principles of peace, generosity of spirit, and social progress winds up feeling ridiculed by the others, and suffering perhaps the most, as frustration, fatigue, and a bottle of excellent rum take their toll:

Veronica: I don't see the point of existence without some kind of moral conception of the world.

Michael [her husband]: See what I have to live with?

Director Rick Lombardo of San Jose Rep hasn't stinted on the nasty, horrifying aspects of the play, but the physicality of the blocking, which regularly crosses into stereotypical caveman posturing and grimaces, felt heavy-handed to me. It may be a matter of taste -- the logic of the choice is spot-on, to be sure, and it follows the plot arc and blends well with the amount of slapstick that the action requires.

That said, all four actors utterly and gracefully incorporate their movements into fully realized characters. Joey Parsons, in particular, enacts a sort of sexy-librarian evolution into what appears to be the tallest, strongest, most emotionally labile and dangerous woman ever to hit a stage. And Valley favorite Bob Sorenson, a master of timing (and, full disclosure, an old friend of mine), is subtle, wacky, and compelling by turns, ceding focus to his equally talented castmates when appropriate.

This production will make its Bay Area première in San Jose from March 22 through April 15, 2012, in case you're going to be there then or would like to recommend it to someone.

God of Carnage continues through Sunday, December 4, at Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe Street. The play contains mature language and some other content that might make you prefer to enjoy a meal afterward (it's quite short, without an intermission). For tickets, $33 to $64, click here or call 602-256-6995.

You've also got a single chance to catch an "in concert" reading/singing of Actors Theatre's beloved A Christmas Carol at the Herberger on the afternoon of Christmas Eve (Saturday, December 24). This fundraising performance will help the company reach its goal of staying in business, which would be a very nice gift for all of us. Tickets are $25 to $500. Snag them here or call 602-253-6701.

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