Jul 26, 2012

[Theater] God of Carnage (Atlantis Productions)

Locally, Atlantis Productions is best known for staging top-notch musicals here in Metro Manila. They've done justice to many great Broadway productions and I'll admit that I've patronized their productions time and time again for at least 5 years now.

So it was certainly a surprise when they announced that they would be putting up a straight play this year, especially one featuring THE Lea Salonga top-billing the cast. So needless to say I was pretty interested to see what it was all about.

We finally caught the show over the previous weekend, and I have to admit that we were more than impressed with the final result. While I was worried that this may end up being a boring production, Atlantis made sure to bring the level of theatricality that we typically associate with stage musicals in a rather grand way.

The initial verdict - I'm definitely looking forward to future non-musical productions coming from Atlantis. Totally worth the money. And here's why...

Synopsis: God of Carnage (originally Le Dieu du carnage) is a play by Yasmina Reza. Originally in French, the play met success in its English runs as well and made it to Broadway in 2009. The Broadway production featured the likes of James Gandolfini and Maria Gay Harden, who won the Tony for Best Actress. The play won three other Tony Awards and had been nominated three others.

The local run ran from July 13-22, 2012, after which the group will be touring Singapore.

The play centers around two sets of parents meeting to resolve a little altercation between their sons. It appears that Benjamin, the son of Anette (Mechu Lauchengco-Yulo) and Alan (Art Acuña), knocked out two of the teeth of Henry, the son of Veronica (Lea Salonga) and Michael (Adrian Pang). Thus the parents are trying to do the civilized thing of working out how to address the situation and how to address the violent behavior of their sons.

But as the play progresses, all efforts of being civilized and mature begin to fade away and are replaced with increasingly childish behavior. Alan, the lawyer, is constantly answering calls on his cellphone throughout the conversation much to everyone's increasing annoyance. Veronica, the writer, appears to be rather particular about the cleanliness of her home, bordering on obsessive. Michael is constantly flip-flopping between supporting his wife and agreeing with the rather chauvinist views of Alan. And Anette seems to be on the bring of breaking down - but perhaps not for long.

The play is rather short with a running time of only 80 minutes without an intermission. Given that, I was a bit surprised Atlantis chose to go this route instead of selecting a more robust production. Maybe it was meant as an experiment or a way to minimize risk for them? Regardless, it did make for a very impressive production since the actors were on-stage almost the entire time without a break.

English: Lea Salonga in New York
English: Lea Salonga in New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Now it goes without saying that Lea was just adorable as the obsessive and intellectual Veronica. Her efforts to somehow maintain civility while staunchly defending her son carried a lot of the performance. And her interaction with her on-stage husband, as played by Adrian Pang, was just wonderful. It probably helped that the two of them hard worked together previously in productions like They're Playing Our Song (which sadly I never got to see). I think they're interactions were wonderfully genuine that made it a lot easier to immerse oneself into the narrative.

And that's the thing, really. The whole production just felt so real. It didn't feel like we were watching a play on some stage. It felt like we were right there in their apartment, watching this scene unfold. And that's a major credit to both the quality of the writing and of course the talent of the actors involved. This may seem like a stereotypical observation, but frankly there are far too many plays that don't quite manage to fully accomplish this. Yes, many productions are impressive and wonderful, but they don't always manage to break down the barriers between actors and audience and I really think that this play managed just that masterfully.

I rarely comment on the quality of the production set as part of these reviews, but I do need to take some time to do precisely that right now. They managed to put together a pretty impressive stage that captured all the grandeur of a high class apartment and made it a highly dynamic member of the show despite it being a static set. There were not revolving panels or shifting screens - just a tastefully decorated living room where all the action takes place.

On the whole, God of Carnage was a fabulous first showing for an Atlantis stage play. I really enjoyed watching it and it's a shame the local run is already over and you readers won't get a chance to see it - unless you fly to Singapore. Thus the production gets a full 5 surprise physical stunts during the play out of a possible 5.
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