by Warren Francke
Call the play God of Carnage, open a Blue Barn season themed “Over the Edge” with two sets of wary parents on opposing leather couches, and you don’t expect to wait long before all hell breaks loose.
Playwright Yasmine Reza adds to the fun by not making it easy to pick sides or root for one pair over the other, or even one particular father or mother. All four give as good as they get.
Director Susan Clement-Toberer helps keep a level playing field by casting four of Omaha’s top talents, Jerry Longe and Theresa Sindelar as Michael and Veronica, hosting the confrontation, and Jill Anderson and Ablan Roblin as their guests, Annette and Alan.
You’re tempted make Roblin the chief villain, as a lawyer always on his cell phone conspiring to cover up a drug company’s dangerous product. Instead, you can’t help but like his candor in calling his son Benjamin “a savage” rather than trying to justify the 11-year-old’s dental injury to Mike and Ronnie’s son Henry.
When Sindelar’s Ronnie starts the get-together by reading a written statement that describes Benjamin as “armed with a stick,” lawyer Alan objects to “armed” and Ronnie obligingly substitutes “furnished.” When she wishes to speak to Alan’s young “savage,” he quips, “Good luck.”
So we quickly get a take on the victim’s mother and the aggressor’s father. It takes more time to learn that Longe’s Mike, who deals in household goods, self-identifies as “a Neanderthal,” and that Jill’s Annette, beneath an uptight veneer, just needs a lot of rum in her tummy to blast away with the best of them.
Early on, Longe is conciliatory, offering his own silly nickname to counter mocking at the other couple’s “Woof-woof,” dated to the song, “How Much is that Doggy in the Window.”
He’s less sympathetic when his mother calls and informs him that she’s taking the drug that the lawyer is trying to protect.
Jill’s Annette, whose work is wealth management, fires her first hard shot when Longe admits callously liberating his daughter’s hamster after tiring of its nocturnal noises. “You murdered the hamster,” she accuses. But the crossfire isn’t always from couple-to-couple. Soon wives are blasting away at their own husbands and the boys are bonding.
Thanks to her ample imbibing from the rum bottle, Jill Anderson easily plays the character that transforms most entertainingly. It’s tempting to describe her antics in details, but I’ll resist rather than spoiling the surprises.
Sindelar, a writer whose do-gooding pretensions make her an easy target, is given an empathetic phone conversation with her daughter to raise her status with the audience. even as she lies to the girl.
Playgoers who read a pre-show synopsis expect something in the vein of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and they get a story arc that builds comparably but flags a bit as the conflict winds down.
It doesn’t rank with my top five all-time favorites at the Barn, but that’s not a complaing. It starts their 25th anniversary season by confirming the company’s status as the most completely professional supplier of bold programming. As you’d expect in a single-setting, four-character play, the 75-minute dramedy runs without intermission.
That setting, by the way, is another Martin Scott Machitto masterpiece enhanced by the lighting of Carol Wisner and costumes by Lindsay Pape.
God of Carnage runs through Oct. 18 at7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 6 p.m. Sundays Oct. 6 and 13 at the Blue Barn Theatre, 614 S. 11th St. in the Old Market. Tickets are $25 adults, $20 students and seniors. Call 402.345.1576 or visit bluebarn.org.