'God of Carnage' runs Friday–Saturday through April 2 at Wells Fargo Center for the Performing Arts. 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. $30–$40. 707.546.3600. '4000 Miles' runs Friday–Sunday through April 17 at the Novato Theater Company Playhouse. 5420 Nave Drive, Novato. $15–$25. 415.226.9353.
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FACE OFF Ron Severdia, left, Melissa Claire and Nick Sholley duke it out in 'God of Carnage.'
The foundation of any theatrical production is the script. True, it is possible to conjure a first-rate show from a second-rate play, but it's never easy.
Currently, two shows I've never liked are running in the North Bay. One production ultimately fails to overcome the inherent problems of the script, despite some excellent acting and directing, while the other show comes closer, mainly by ably tricking us into believing there is more going on than there actually is.
First, there is Left Edge Theatre's rambunctious new staging of Yasmina Reza's perplexingly popular comedy God of Carnage, playing one more weekend at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. The play follows two married couples who meet to discuss a playground scuffle between their sons. Faster than you can say "People are basically animals," the convivial confab devolves into pouting, shrieking, name-calling, some vigorous vomiting and general suburban mayhem.
Featuring a stellar cast of North Bay veterans (Heather Gordon, Melissa Claire, Ron Severdia and Nick Sholley) and directed by Argo Thompson with minimal fussiness and a smart emphasis on physical humor, the play still suffers from its aimless storytelling, the assaulting unpleasantness of the story and an overall absence of anything fresh or truly engaging to say. And, no, graphic onstage vomiting does not qualify as a social statement.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★
The essential failure of Amy Herzog's 4000 Miles—the story of an angry cyclist and his passive-aggressive relationship with his testy, suspicious grandmother—is its lack of direction and absence of coherent plotting, along with characters who, with one exception, start off being largely unlikable and reveal themselves so slowly that by the time we see something admirable, it's too late.
So credit must be given to director Norman Hall for casting an intrinsically appealing cast for the play's run at the Novato Theater Company: Shirley Nilsen Hall and Jesse Lumb as the grandmother and grandson, and Emily Radosevich and Courtney Yuen in supporting roles. Hall allows them to show their vulnerable sides even in the midst of some off-putting, occasionally repellant behavior, and they prove expert at mining laughs from the long, uncomfortable silences that often hang between their halting words.
I still don't think much of the play itself, but this amiable and occasionally moving production definitely makes me dislike it less.