The Actors’ Gang webpage describes their revival of Adam Simon and Tim
Robbins’ Carnage, A Comedy as a “raucous satire about televangelism and
the state of religion in America,” yet when the original production of Carnage
went to New York in 1989, Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote, “There may
have been a more amateurish work than ”Carnage” on a professional stage in
New York this year, but somehow the gods spared me from seeing it.”
This is precisely the kind of negativity that StageSceneLA.com attempts to
avoid. After all, our motto/goal is “emphasizing the positive in Los Angeles
theater,” a pledge which I usually find easy to uphold. For many reasons
(which I have enumerated on our FAQs page), I end up recommending about
85% of what I see each year. Still, when I think back over the past four years of
playgoing (equaling nearly 1000 visits to the theater), fewer than a dozen
times have I truly wished to be somewhere other than in my theater seat, and
unfortunately one of those times was today.
That’s not to say that there is not prodigious talent involved in Carnage, A
Comedy. The acting is across the board excellent, though Simon/Robbins’
script does require numerous over-the-top moments. V.J. Foster, as
televangelist Cotton Slocum gives the kind of dynamic (to the point of
physical exhaustion) performances that wins awards, and his younger
counterpart, handsome Justin Zsebe as Tack, is intensity and commitment
personified, even as his seemingly endless act two rant proves excruciating to
sit through. Stephanie Carrie, as Dot, the voice of reason, is cute, charming,
and touching, in a role that never once grates.
Act 1 is a fairly lighthearted satire on televangelism with occasional funny
• Cotton teaching Tack how to “sell it” though effective timing: “The Lord,
2, 3, 4, 5, moves in mysterious ways, 6, 7, 8, 9.”
• Bouffant blonde wigged Donna Jo Thorndale as Tammy Faye-inspired
Tipper Slocum trying to raise money for a children’s cancer hospital by asking
viewers to support “those soon-to-be angels.”
• Chris Schultz as right wing extremist Ralph telling wife Dot, “He’s in my
house. I have a constitutional right to shoot him.”
• Cotton, after a rap gospel number entitled “Go For The Gold,” adlibbing
“I think we’re gonna call that ‘Hip Hope.’”
• Sugar sweet Pristeena (Lindsley Allen) telling puppet Foo Foo that drugs
and alcohol are “Satan’s poo.”
Still, in my own case at least, the pretty much plotless first act ended up to be
mostly a bore, I’m sorry to say.
Then, came the post-apocalyptic second act, which neither I nor the friend I
attended with could make heads or tails of, and which includes two painfully
long monologs, one by Cotton in breakdown-ready crisis of faith mode, the
second Tack’s above-mentioned rant.
Only a handful of times have I kept wishing that a show would end, and one of
them was today.
The talented actors/director/musicians/desingers involved in Carnage, A
Comedy have done faultless work. Director Beth F. Milles has brought Simon
and Robbins’ vision to vivid life. Sibyl Wickersheimer’s set is simple and stark, but
appropriate. Alix Hester’s costumes are colorful and imaginative in act 1, stark
but imaginative in act 2. Excellent background music and accompaniment
for the play’s three original songs are provided by music director Cameron Dye,
with Sandro Mastrobuono and Chris Schultz completing the excellent three-
piece ensemble. Best of all are John Zalewski’s detailed sound design and
Francois-Pierre Couture’s equally rich lighting. Still, in the immortal words of the
Bard, “the play’s the thing,” and Carnage, A Comedy was not my thing at all, a
theatrical experiment which failed to interest me.
There will certainly be people (theatergoers and critics alike) who will rave
about this production. Though today’s audience’s response seemed muted
at best, there were a number of bravos at curtain calls.
In the final analysis, Carnage, A Comedy is simply not my cup of tea, though I
have nothing but praise for the work/commitment/talent of the actors,
director, musicians, and designers.
Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Boulevard, Culver City
February 3, 2008
Photos: Jean-Louis Darville