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People Discard Facades in MTC Farce ‘God of Carnage’

With surgical precision, the Marin Theatre Company slices away the pretentious masks of civility in "God of Carnage" — all the while emphasizing hilarity.

With surgical precision, God of Carnage slices away the pretentious masks of civility.

But it accomplishes that goal with hilarity.

Like its 2009 Tony-winning Broadway predecessor, the Marin Theatre Company production dexterously illustrates the devolution of two couples in an upscale Brooklyn neighborhood.

Four Equity actors work in concert, playing off their characters’ foibles and failings, in a dissonant cacophony of bickering and bullying.

If that sounds too heavy, don’t let it scare you — Yasmina Reza’s farce kept the opening night audience laughing from its first lines to its frustratingly too-sudden last.

The plot of what Reza has called a “funny tragedy” is simple: As the two pairs politely try to handle the aftermath of a fight between their pre-teen boys, their interactions degenerate into something resembling a nasty schoolyard brawl of their own. 

That adult scrapping is like watching an inactive volcano slowly come to life on the single-set stage and spew lava and ash.

Somehow, it’s all done with acerbic wit.

Stacy Ross, especially powerful in her portrayal of Veronica Novak as she strips away her exaggerated good manners, is a mistress of physical comedy, often romping across the stage as if it’s a kids’ “jumpy house.”

At other times she may remind theatergoers of Jodie Foster, who assumed the role in last year’s film version by director Roman Polanski.

But Ross always plays to the hilt Veronica’s neurotic contradictions.

Rachel Harker, who portrays an uptight, matronly Annette Raleigh, twice steals the comic spotlight with retching that almost purges some of the show’s toxicity.

Like the two males in the cast (Warren David Keith as Alan, Veronica’s husband, and Remi Sandri as Michael, Annette’s spouse), Harker performs admirably — except, perhaps, in those few instances when her back is turned to the audience and her voice is muffled.

The theatrical chaos was born in the brain of French playwright Yasmina Reza, who sprinkles her script with a spot-on depiction of cell-phone rudeness and a bevy of sardonic one-liners that sear in context:

• “Clearly you have parenting skills that put us to shame."

• “Madame, our son is a savage.”

• “We’re not going to take this medicine off the market because two or three people are bumping into furniture.”

• “What I am is a…Neanderthal.”

• “Puking seems to have perked you up.”

Director Ryan Rilette squeezes laughter from both verbal and sight gags, and makes the intermission-less show seem shorter than its actual 80-minute length.

Not everyone loved the opening night performance, though. One distinguished gentleman loudly proclaimed that he found the show “tawdry” and “like a bad TV sitcom.”

I disagree.

I enjoyed it even though I’d seen the Polanski movie, which inexplicably changed the names of some characters yet adhered closely to the written text.

Everyone knows — or is — Reza’s people, or possesses at least some of their characteristics.

God of Carnage plays at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, through Sunday, June 24. Performances Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m.; matinees Saturdays or Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thursdays, 1 p.m. Tickets: $15 to $55. Information: (415) 388-5208 or marintheatre.org.

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