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Civility succumbs to rage in dark comedy ‘God of Carnage’

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published February 11, 2015

 From left, Laura Ver Beek, Phil Potter, Steve Ball and Kathleen Lietz play a pair of couples at odds with each other in “God of Carnage,” a production from Grosse Pointe Theatre offshoot the Purdon Studio Theatre.

From left, Laura Ver Beek, Phil Potter, Steve Ball and Kathleen Lietz play a pair of couples at odds with each other in “God of Carnage,” a production from Grosse Pointe Theatre offshoot the Purdon Studio Theatre.

Photo courtesy of Grosse Pointe Theatre

GROSSE POINTE SHORES — A playground scuffle between two 11-year-old boys kicks off a confrontation between their respective parents that will have audience members asking who the immature figures really are in “God of Carnage,” the latest production from Grosse Pointe Theatre offshoot the Purdon Studio Theatre.

A dark comedy about high-strung upper-income couples trying in vain to maintain perfect facades, “God of Carnage” is a Tony Award-winner from playwright Yasmina Reza, who also wrote “Art,” the first PST production, which was staged in February 2010. “God of Carnage” will be performed Feb. 19-March 1 in the activities center of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, where it’s staged in a more intimate “black box” theater setting than the regular GPT season productions, which are produced for a larger stage and auditorium at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial.

Director Kathy Conlon, of St. Clair Shores, said that after she read the script and saw a production of the show at Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor, she “loved the play” and felt it would be a perfect fit for the annual PST production. PST shows tend to be edgier and more modern than the regular GPT season.

“It’s a very contemporary story,” Conlon said. “It speaks to ‘helicopter parents,’ but (it’s) also about this veneer of gentility and civilization that people wear, especially in this upper-middle-class (world). … It’s fun to watch these characters break down and show what they really are.”

In “God of Carnage,” after one of the boys hits the other, their parents agree to meet to resolve the conflict and avoid legal action. Conlon said the show — a single act lasting about an hour and 20 minutes — takes place in real time. Because of some adult language, the show is recommended for mature audiences.

The audience never sees the kids; the entire cast consists of the two sets of parents: Annette and Alan Raleigh, played by Laura Ver Beek, of Grosse Pointe Park, and Phil Potter, of St. Clair Shores, and Veronica and Michael Novak, played by Kathleen Lietz, of Royal Oak, and Steve Ball, of St. Clair Shores. The stage manager is Vonnie Miller, of St. Clair Shores; the costumer is Marie Delong, of St. Clair Shores; and the props manager is Mary Stelmark, of Grosse Pointe Farms. Jeff Ver Beek, of Grosse Pointe Park, is handling lights and sound.

Ball said this show is physically and mentally challenging for actors. For the single and childless Ball, he joked that the cracks in his character’s marriage “certainly lowers the bar from here on marriage (for me). Anywhere I go from here (is an improvement).”

Whether someone is in a happy relationship or not, Conlon said there’s “an element of recognizable truth” in these characters, who descend to pointed personal attacks on each other and reveal the racism, sexism and misogyny that lies beneath their carefully composed public personas.

“In the beginning of the play, these people are on their best behavior,” she said. “And then the reality intervenes.”

The darkness of the material is offset by the show’s sharp sense of humor.

“The play is hilarious, and there’s a lot of elements that are funny-bordering-on-slapstick, but there’s also a lot of rage,” Ball said. “It’ll make you feel better about your marriage after watching these people acting like imbeciles.”

The Ford House is located at 1100 Lake Shore in Grosse Pointe Shores, between Vernier and Nine Mile roads. Tickets are $15, and reservations are recommended because seating is limited. For tickets or more information, call (313) 881-4004 or visit www.gpt.org.