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Monsters
by Stephen Peirick
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
June 8, 2017

Kevin O’Brien, Jeremy Goldmeier, Sarajane Alverson
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

The latest production in Stray Dog Theatre’s 2016-2017 season is a new play by local playwright and actor Stephen Peirick. Monsters is billed as a “comedy thriller”, and it certainly provides elements of both of those genres even though the “comedy” element is more prominent, at least for most of the play. With a talented, enthusiastic cast and some sharp humor and good pacing, this is a promising show, even though it does have a few issues that could be addressed.

Monsters doesn’t feature any literal monsters. The title is more metaphorical, examining the idea that seemingly good human beings can be capable of monstrous acts and attitudes. The situation is essentially a version of the “bumbling unlikely criminals” idea, with “manchild” brothers Jeremy (Kevin O’Brien) and Davis (Jeremy Goldmeier) planning a scheme for personal reasons that they won’t initially share with Davis’s wife, Andi (Sarajane Alverson), who happens across Jeremy in her basement accompanied by a strange man, who Jeremy introduces as Carl (Michael A. Wells), whom Jeremy has put in a difficult situation. The story of what exactly is happening takes a while to be told, as the nervous Jeremy is hesitant to disclose his secret. But Andi has secrets of her own that she’s trying to hide from Jeremy and, especially Davis. Another unexpected event is the arrival of Andi’s brash younger sister, Piper (Eileen Engel), who unbeknownst to Jeremy and Davis, has a habit of coming to the house on Tuesdays to do her laundry–a revelation that the jealous Jeremy, who has no such privileges, highly resents. I can’t say much more about the plot because the revelations of the various “secrets” and the motivations behind them are the centerpiece of the show. I’ll just say that some things are exactly as they seem, and other definitely are not.

The dialogue and characterization are the strongest elements of this show, along with the excellent performances. Alverson as the confrontational, sarcastic and secretive Andi, and O’Brien as the earnest, excitable and bumbling Jeremy are standouts in an impressive, cohesive cast. Engel plays against type well as the opportunistic, self-absorbed Piper, and Goldmeier is also good as the not-so-masterful “mastermind” of the “secret plan”, Davis, and Wells gives a funny, sympathetic performance as a man who spends the majority of the production being pushed around by the other characters. The characters are interesting, alternating between being sympathetic and not as likable, and generally this is a gripping, funny, entertaining and thought-provoking production, although it does have a few issues, most notably in the “comedy-thriller” designation, since the “thriller” aspect of the production–and particularly the revelation of one character’s seemingly sudden decision–that are less credible and not given sufficient build-up.  The comedy aspect is well done, however, and there are some interesting explorations of the ideas of personal responsibility, opportunism, truth and secret keeping, as well as the idea that not everything or everyone is how they may first appear.

The play does a good job of maintaining the audience’s interest, and the visual presentation is excellent, as well, with a set by Justin Been that is a realistic representation of the unfinished basement in which the action takes place. The characters are all outfitted appropriately by costume designer (and director) Gary F. Bell, as well, and Tyler Duenow’s lighting contributes to the overall atmosphere well.

Overall, this is an impressive, promising new production. While I do think there are some story and character elements that can be improved, it’s a funny and provocative play with well-drawn and well-portrayed characters. It’s definitely worth seeing, and it’s great to see a local theatre company developing such an intriguing new theatrical work by a talented local playwright.

Eileen Engel, Jeremy Goldmeier, Sarajane Alverson
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is presenting Monsters at Tower Grove Abbey until June 24, 2017.

 

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A Doll’s House
by Henrik Ibsen, Adapted by Frank McGuinness
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
February 2, 2017

Ben Ritchie, Nicole Angeli Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Ben Ritchie, Nicole Angeli
Photo by John Lamb

Stray Dog Theatre

A Doll’s House is a much-performed and studied classic of theatre by famed 19th Century Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It’s been celebrated and criticized over the decades for its feminist message, and its central role has been played by many accomplished actresses. At Stray Dog Theatre, this play represents a revolution of sorts, as it brings this always good theatre company into a new level of excellence, especially where non-musical plays are concerned.

The story, set in a small town in Norway in 1879, follows pampered housewife Nora Helmer (Nicole Angeli), who lives a seemingly idyllic existence as the wife of respected local business man Torvald (Ben Ritchie), who has just accepted a prestigious job as manager of a local bank. Her husband dotes on her, calling her his “Songbird” and “Skylark” and treating her something like an overgrown child. Nora has her own children, too–two young sons (Joe Webb as Ivar, Simon Desilets as Bobby) and a baby daughter, cared for by Nora’s childhood nanny, Anne-Marie. Her house is well-appointed and her husband’s reputation is impeccable. He’s frequently visited by his old friend, the kind but sickly Dr. Rank (John N. Reidy), and revels in the prospect of his new job and the money and status it will give him and the family, including Nora, who seems to enjoy spending his money.  As simple and stereotypical as Nora may seem at first, however, we soon learn of secrets that she is hiding even from her husband. As old school friend Kristine Linde (Rachel Hanks) arrives, newly widowed and looking for a job, Nora reveals the truth about her past with Torvald, and exactly how she was able to afford a trip to Italy some years previous that proved lifesaving for him but put Nora into the debt of Nils Krogstad (Stephen Peirick), a disgraced and disgruntled employee of the bank who is at risk of losing his job when Torvald takes over, and who desperately doesn’t want that to happen. As events progress and more is revealed about Krogstad, Kristine, Dr. Rank, and especially Torvald, Nora is forced to examine the life she has led and her future with the man she’s married to but isn’t sure she knows as well as she had thought.

This play is masterfully constructed, and even though it was written over 100 years ago and is focused on a specific time and place, it still has resonance today in terms of the roles of men and women in marriage, societal expectations and personal agency. In a way, this play is something of a counterpoint to another Ibsen classic, Hedda Gabler, depicting a woman’s plight amid the expectations of society but with somewhat different circumstances and drastically different conclusions. At Stray Dog, director Gary F. Bell has staged this work meticulously, emphasizing character relationships and pacing the show with just the right balance of urgency and patience, allowing the characters’ decisions and thought processes to convey believably and with resonance.  It all takes place on an exquisitely wrought birdcage-like set designed by Robert J. Lippert, with sumptuous, richly detailed costumes by Eileen Engel that evoke the era and style of period with excellence. These qualities are strongly supported as well by Tyler Duenow’s excellent lighting and Justin Been’s clear sound.  It’s a stunning technical production, augmenting the truly first-rate performances of the cast.

As Nora, Angeli excels. I’ve seen her in many plays over the years, and she continues to impress with her sheer ability to lose herself in a role. She inhabits Nora here with an impressive mixture of girlishness, shrewdness, vulnerability, and an underlying intelligence that shows itself more as the story plays out. She makes Nora’s journey 100% credible, and she shines in all her scenes, especially with Ritchie, also impressive as the controlling, self-absorbed but emotionally dependent Torvald. Also making strong impressions are Reidy as the earnest, kind but ultimately sad Dr. Rank, Hanks as the determined, honest Kristine, and Peirick as the oily, desperate Krogstad, whose villainy has a distinct reason. The whole supporting cast is strong, as well, with Melanie Kozak impressing as the all-seeing family maid Helene, and convincing performances from Renard as kindly nanny Anne-Marie and young Webb and Desilets as the Helmers’ sons. This is a strong script, and it demands a strong cast, which Stray Dog’s production emphatically provides.

Stray Dog Theatre is an excellent theatre company, and I’ve seen some wonderful shows there over the years, especially in the area of musical theatre. With this timely, transcendent production of A Doll’s House, though, this company has achieved a new level of excellence with a non-musical play. It’s a production that manages to celebrate Ibsen and shine a light on the plight of women in society in his time as well as now. This is a challenging work, and SDT has more than met that challenge. It’s a truly superb production.

John N. Reidy, Rachel Hanks, Ben Ritchie, Nicole Angeli Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

John N. Reidy, Rachel Hanks, Ben Ritchie, Nicole Angeli
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is presenting A Doll’s House at the Tower Grove Abbey until February 18, 2017.

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Buyer & Cellar
by Jonathan Tolins
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
December 1, 2016

Will Bonfiglio Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Will Bonfiglio
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

It’s fun when you can see a new production of a show you’ve seen before and feel like you’re seeing it for the very first time. I loved Buyer & Seller when I saw last year’s production by another local theatre company. This year, though, Stray Dog is presenting the quirky one-person show featuring the delightfully talented Will Bonfiglio, and it seems like a new experience. In fact, I think I like it even more this time.

The story is a crazy one–a fictionalized tale of out-of-work California actor Alex More (Bonfiglio), who is hired to work as the only employee in an old fashioned shopping mall in superstar Barbra Streisand’s basement. The house is real, as is the basement mall, and Streisand’s book, My Passion For Design, that describes and pictures the real house and mall. What’s not real, however, is the rest of the story, which springs from the vivid imagination of playwright Jonathan Tolins and serves as an excellent showcase for a talented actor with lots of energy, and the personable Bonfiglio is perfectly cast.  With seemingly boundless reserves of bouncy, bright and approachable verve, Bonfiglio makes an ideal central figure and story teller.  He takes us throught Alex’s journey with warmth and clarity, also ably portraying various other characters in Alex’s story, including Alex’s screenwriter boyfriend Barry, various Streisand associates and relatives, and of course, Barbra herself.  His portrayal, as Bonfiglio clearly outlines at the beginning of the play, is not a direct impression of Streisand, but it’s vividly effective, portraying an underlying toughness as well as vulnerability in the superstar.  Most of the time, though, Bonfiglio is Alex, and as he tells his story and acts it out, the sense of alternating wonder, suspense, surprise, awe, and disappointment is readily apparent. It’s a superb and extremely approachable performance.

The technical elements of this play also integrate seamlessly into the telling of Alex’s story. Scenic designer Rob Lippert has created a “blank canvas” type set, all in white, on which Bonfiglio can paint the portrait of his experience. Through excellent use of projections, Tyler Duenow’s colorful lighting, and sound designer Justin Been’s evocative sound effects, the humor and drama of the story is wonderfully augmented. Director Gary F. Bell also designed the costumes, outfitting Bonfiglio in a comfortable, versatile ensemble that suits his character well.

This play is an excellent showcase for Bonfiglio as well as an insightful portrayal of the plight of an actor who wants to work, as well as the perks and insecurities of being a world-famous superstar like Streisand. Although this is not a true story, there’s a lot of truth in it nonetheless. That truth is on vibrant, hilarious display currently in this remarkable production at Stray Dog Theatre.

straydogbuyercellarcd17e

Will Bonfiglio Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Buyer & Cellar is being presented by Stray Dog Theatre at the Tower Grove Abbey until December 17, 2016.

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Five Women Wearing the Same Dress
by Alan Ball
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
June 9, 2016

Sarajane Alverson, Frankie Ferrari, Lindsay Gingrich, Eileen Engel, Shannon Nara. Kevin O’Brien Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Sarajane Alverson, Frankie Ferrari, Lindsay Gingrich, Eileen Engel, Shannon Nara. Kevin O’Brien
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

It’s wedding season in St. Louis theatre. As director Gary F. Bell mentioned in his pre-show introduction to Stray Dog Theatre’s latest production of Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, several local theatre companies are currently staging plays that feature weddings in some way.  There are many aspects of weddings that can be featured in theatre, and for SDT, the featured production is focused on the bridesmaids. A character study that features a collection of contrasting personalities, this show depends largely on the strength of its cast, and SDT’s production certainly delivers in that area.

There are six on stage characters in this play, although several off stage characters are also important to the proceedings. Tracy and Scott, the bride and groom, are never seen but are often talked about, as is another wedding guest, Tommy, who has somehow affected the lives of most of the bridesmaids. The focus here, though, is on the “five women” of the play’s title–a disparate collection of characters who are all connected with the bride or groom in various ways, and whose personalities widely differ. There’s the bride’s younger sister, the tough-talking Meredith (Lindsay Gringrich); the devout young cousin Frances (Eileen Engel); the sexually adventurous but romantically reticent friend of the bride Trisha (Sarajane Alverson); the unhappily married Georgeanne (Shannon Nara); and the groom’s plain-spoken sister Mindy (Frankie Ferrari). There’s also the good-natured Tripp (Kevin O’Brien), a wedding guest and cousin of the groom who pursues the wary Trisha. Although there is one male character, though, the story mostly revolves around the women, and their differing stories and personalities.

There are many surprises in this script, so there’s not much I can say in detail about the plot. The tone is mostly comedic, although there are some moments of drama, and the focus is on the contrasting personalities and backgrounds of the bridesmaids, and especially their romantic experiences and their attitudes toward love and marriage. The perspectives vary widely, from the virginal Frances, who’s quick to tell everyone she’s a Christian, to the more worldly and jaded Trisha, to the confident lesbian Mindy, and to Meredith and Geogeanne, both of whom are harboring their own secrets.  The characters are well-defined and not especially stereotypical, which is a credit to the playwright, although there are also some stories that aren’t given a proper conclusion, and an ending that seems a little too tidy. Still, it’s an interesting study of these contrasting characters, extremely well-played by the excellent cast, with Alverson’s brash Trisha, Ferrari’s frank Mindy, and Gingrich’s rebellious but guarded Meredith as standouts, although every cast member has excellent moments, and the acting chemistry between all six performers is extremely strong.

The setting of a bedroom in a suburban Tennessee house in the early 1990’s is well-realized, with director and scenic designer Gary F. Bell’s set providing the ideal backdrop for the play’s action. Eileen Engel’s costumes are a highlight as well, with the colorfully tacky bridesmides dresses that seem appropriate to the era, as well as being an indication of the character of the unseen bride who would have chosen these outfits. All the technical elements are well-done, including Tyler Duenow’s lighting and Justin Been’s sound.

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress isn’t a perfect play, but it’s an entertaining one. With well-defined, ideally cast characters and a richly detailed setting, the play is at turns funny, dramatic, and at times disturbing, although there is certainly a hopeful tone toward the end. It’s a memorable representation of what turns out to be an eventful wedding for the characters involved.

Shannon Nara, Eileen Engel, Sarajane Alverson, Frankie Ferrari Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Shannon Nara, Eileen Engel, Sarajane Alverson, Frankie Ferrari
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is being presented by Stray Dog Theatre at Tower Grove Abbey until June 25, 2016.

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Devil Boys From Beyond
By Buddy Thomas and Kenneth Elliott
Original Score and Sound Design by Drew Fornarola
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
December 3, 2015

Sarajane Alverson, Jonathan Hey, Michael Juncal, Teryl Thurman Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Sarajane Alverson, Jonathan Hey, Michael Juncal, Teryl Thurman
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Devil Boys From Beyond is like a trip to a drive-in movie circa 1957, but with a decidedly 21st century twist and carloads of snark, irony, and raunchy humor. A broadly satirical send-up of old “B” grade sci-fi films, Devil Boys is the latest offering from Stray Dog Theatre. While this isn’t a particularly deep or profound play, that’s not the point. It’s got a strong cast of enthusiastic actors hamming it up for all the story’s worth.

Unusual things are happening in the small town of Lizard Lick, Florida, and acclaimed New York reporter Matilda “Mattie” Van Buren (Sarjane Alverson) is sent to investigate. Accompanied by her photographer ex-husband Gregory Graham (Stephen Peirick) and followed by her rival, the snarky Lucinda Marsh (Michael Baird), Mattie questions the need for such a sensationalist story despite the insistence of her editor, Gilbert Wiatt (Jonathan Hey). Upon arriving in Lizard Lick after a somewhat slow, talky start, the story gets moving as Mattie and Gregory meet some of the local residents–elderly women such as Florence Wexler (Michael Juncal) and Dotty Primrose (Teryl Thurman) who are minimizing the reported alien invasion and enjoying time with their husbands, who have apparently been transformed into young, scantily clad hunks (Ryan Wiechmann, Brandon Brendel).  Throw in the family secrets, Gregory’s struggle to quit drinking, Lucinda’s meddling, an “alien baby” in a jar, and quite a few surprising plot twists and the show makes for a broad, deliberately overwrought story that provokes not much thought, but a lot of laughs.

The story is presented in the old-school, overacted style of a bad sci-fi film, but ramped up to 11.  The acting is deliberately overdone, and hammed up marvelously by Alverson as the intrepid 50s reporter Mattie, Peirick as the conflicted Gregory, and especially Baird as the villainous Lucinda and Juncal as the enthusiastically obstructive Florence. Both actors play their female roles convincingly and with good, hilariously exaggerated comic flair. Wiechmann, as “Harry Wexler”, and Brendel as “Sheriff Jack Primrose” play their roles with energy and charm, as well, and Hey gives a fine performance as old-movie style hard-boiled newspaper editor Wiatt.

The technical aspects of the show are fine and in the satirical spirit of the story, as well. The set, by Justin Been, consists primarily of a giant vintage postcard-styled billboard for Lizard Lick, along with furniture as needed to set the scenes. There are also some fun props including the “alien baby”, and Eileen Engel’s costumes are colorful and appropriate for the period and tone of the show. A real highlight of the production is the original score and sound design, by Drew Fornarola. The score, including atmospheric melodramatic music and one torch-song musical number for Alverson, ideally sets and maintains the overall mood of the show and provides an excellent soundtrack for the action.

Overall, I would say Devil Boys From Beyond is a fun show, but that’s about it. The performances are all fine and funny, but there is a little bit of a sense of being so ironic and overdone that it’s somewhat difficult to get fully immersed in the experience of the play. It’s all artifice. It’s funny, enjoyable artifice, and with some fun gags and jokes, but there’s not much else beyond that. It also takes a while for the plot to really get moving. Still, with Stray Dog’s enthusiastic, energetic cast, this production makes for an enjoyable, somewhat nostalgic cinematic and theatrical experience.

Sarajne Alverson, Stephen Peirick, Michael Baird Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Sarajne Alverson, Stephen Peirick, Michael Baird
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Devil Boys From Beyond is being presented by Stray Dog Theatre at the Tower Grove Abbey until December 19. 2015.

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Spellbound: A Musical Fable
Music. Lyrics, and Book by Gary F. Bell and Robert L. White
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
August 8, 2015

Paula Stoff Dean (center) and the cast of Spellbound Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Paula Stoff Dean (center) and the cast of Spellbound
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Spellbound: A Musical Fable, an original musical based on a blend of fairy tales and folk legends, closes out Stray Dog Theatre’s 2014-2015 season. A work that’s apparently taken the better part of 20 years to produce, and co-written by Stray Dog’s Artistic director Gary F. Bell, Spellbound is definitely a treat for the eyes, with elaborate sets and colorful costumes and some inventive staging. Still, a show is about more than how it looks, and this one needs work. Although it boasts a strong cast and some interesting ideas, the show ultimately comes across as confusing and somewhat cluttered, and still needing a great deal of work.

Although director and co-author Bell provides a long list of folktale influences on the show in his director’s note in the program, Spellbound is essentially “Cinderella” meets “Little Red Riding Hood” by way of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The basic story is mostly “Cinderella”, though. The show gives us a young protagonist, Arabella (Meadow Tien Nguy), who has grown up being mistreated by her evil stepmother Layla (Deborah Sharn) and selfish stepsisters (Maria Bartolotta as Muchaneta, Eileen Engel as Kokumo). She has a father, the well-meaning but dominated Bangabobo (Patrick Kelly), but he’s being controlled by Layla through use of a magic “tea” that she forces him to drink. Layla, who practices black magic and wishes to rule the mythical land of Samera, has a plan that involves trying to marry one of her daughters to the newly-returned prince, Adama (Chris Tipp) and eventually overthrow his father, the land’s ruler Changamire (Zachary Stefaniak).  When Changamire, desperate to find a wife for his son, listens to the advice of fairy queen Inaambura (Paula Stoff Dean) and hosts a Carnivale at his castle, Layla sees her chance. This being a Cinderella story, of course Arabella wants to go, and of course she’s not allowed. The twist is that now Arabella is sent on a deceptive quest involving a Bengal Tiger (also Tipp). The story continues from there with a few twists and turns, but the outcome is fairly predictable to anyone who’s seen any version of the Cinderella story.

I find it difficult to describe this play as anything other than cluttered. It’s three acts and over three hours long, and contains many elements that are not essential to the story, and some of the fairy tale elements have been done before (and better) elsewhere, such as in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. There’s a prologue scene that doesn’t seem to connect to the rest of the story, and the songs are mostly unmemorable.  There are some standout moments, though–especially the well-staged and entertaining “The Tiger’s Tango” sequence in Act 2. Nguy has an excellent voice and strong stage presence as Arabella, showing off her vocal prowess in the 80s style power-pop ballad “Wings of an Angel”, and displaying good chemistry with Tipp as both the Tiger and as the aimless Adama. It’s strange that this is billed as a journey of identity acceptance when Arabella seems to be the most confident person around, and the character who really changes the most is Adama.  Tipp gives a sympathetic performance, and his scenes with Nguy are the real highlights of the show. Otherwise, there are good performances from most of the overcrowded cast, with Kelly, Dean, Sharn and others giving fine performances, although there’s kind of an air of “dress rehearsal” about a lot of the performances and staging.

The real star of this show is its production values. The whimsical, colorful set by Rob Lippert and stylish, quirky costumes by Engel and Bell are the real highlights here, putting the audience into the magical world much more than the actual story does. There’s also some spectacular lighting by Tyler Duenow that helps maintain the mystical, ethereal atmosphere of a wondrous fairy tale.  This show is worth seeing simply for the spectacular visuals.

Overall, I would say that, while Spellbound has its moments and is generally entertaining, it’s a story with a little too much going on and with ideas that have been done better elsewhere. Bell did say in his pre-show speech that the show is still being worked on and changed throughout its run, and I hope those changes manage to make the story clearer and less cluttered. Still, it’s an impressive effort from the large cast, and especially the top-notch production design. This show’s real accomplishment is visual, creating a world with a stunning sense of style. I just wish there was a little more magic in the story.

Chris Tipp, Meadow Tien Nguy Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Chris Tipp, Meadow Tien Nguy
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

 Spellbound: A Musical Fable runs at Stray Dog Theatre’s Tower Grove Abbey until August 22, 2015.

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God of Carnage
by Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
February 5, 2015

Sarajane Alverson, Michael Juncal, Stephen Peirick, MIchelle Hand Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Sarajane Alverson, Michael Juncal, Stephen Peirick, MIchelle Hand
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Children have been getting into playground fights for generations, although lately it’s been more common–and newsworthy–for the parents to get involved.  God of Carnage, the latest offering from Stray Dog Theatre, depicts a meeting of two sets of parents concerning their children’s squabble that threatens to turn into an all-out brawl itself.  Delving into the rawest of human emotions and peeling away the veneer of politeness that most adults try their best to maintain, this play is an exploration of some of the baser aspects of human nature as well as a grand showcase for an excellent cast of local actors.

The story starts straighforwardly enough, with two sets of parents meeting to discuss what to do about a recent fight involving their sons. The meeting takes place in the well-appointed, middle class Brooklyn home of Veronica (Sarajane Alverson) and Michael (Michael Juncal), whose young son, Henry, has been hit in the face with a stick, splitting his lip and breaking two teeth. The perpetrator is Benjamin, son of Annette (Michelle Hand) and Alan (Stephen Peirick), and the two sets of parents are all politeness, at first.  Throughout the course of the evening, the true nature of these people is revealed and the dynamics shift back and forth. They break out the snacks, and later the coffee, and eventually the booze, and their true feelings emerge as a result. In addition to their sons’ altercation, subjects discussed, bantered and argued about include lawyer Alan’s addiction to his cell phone, Veronica’s need to control the situation, Annette’s suppressed but surfacing anxiety, and Michael’s concern for his ailing mother and distrust of Alan.  It’s a full-length one-act with no intermission, and the dark comedy with hints of drama builds as these four people jockey for position and drop all pretense as they struggle to work out more issues than just their children’s fight, with a conclusion that provides just as many questions as it does answers.

This is a play with no “leads” or “supporting” parts, as all four characters share equal importance, and the cast assembled here is excellent. Hand, as Annette, is clearly the standout, with her repressed, nervous portrayal exploding into a fitful, stream-of-consciousness one-woman tirade.  With excellent use of physicality and perfect comic timing, Hand infuses the production with a vibrant, nervous energy.  Alverson as the controlling, pretentious Veronica also turns in a memorable performance, displaying a sharp wit and excellent chemistry with the rest of the cast. Peirick, as the workaholic Alan, is also strong in an emotionally charged performance, and Juncal’s Michael is effectively defensive and combative. In a play with so many shifting character dynamics, ensemble chemistry is essential, and for the most part, this ensemble manages to maintain the fast pace and explosive tension of the play.

The visual design of the play is striking, with an excellent, detailed set by Rob Lippert, with its middle-class modern furniture and well-appointed tables and shelves full of books, knickknacks and booze. There are also well-suited, character appropriate costumes by director Gary F. Bell, whose staging is dynamic and uses the whole stage to great effect.   The technical aspects of this play, as usual for Stray Dog, continue to impress in terms of making the most of a relatively small performance space, and adding to the overall atmosphere of the performance.

This isn’t a particularly “pretty” depiction of parental strife and concern, although its continual changes and reversals, and shifting alliances lend to the overall dark and tension-building tone of the comedy, suggesting a sense of uncontrolled chaos about the lives of seemingly every day, “normal” (whatever that word means) parents.  It’s a play about expectations and judgments, both internal and external, and a reminder that people are often more complex, and more self-focused, than they may initially seem.  It’s a bit of an indictment and deconstruction of the modern concept of parenting–both the overprotective and the neglectful.  There’s a lot of challenging material here, but it’s mostly painted with a broad comic brush. At Stray Dog Theatre, God of Carnage is a revealing, energetic and memorable evening of theatre.

Sarajane Alverson, Michelle Hand, Michael Juncal, Stephen Perick Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Sarajane Alverson, Michelle Hand, Michael Juncal, Stephen Perick
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

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