Sunday, September 16, 2012

God of Carnage (Atlantis Productions) - My Opening Night Review

July 13, 2012

Atlantis Productions is riding a high wave following totally sold-out run of "Rock of Ages" which had its last show just last weekend.  After a campy fun rock musical that brought the audience back to the 1980s, now the production tackles a straight play for a change.  The play is "God of Carnage," originally written in French by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton.  

The play is award-winning.  It won the 2009 Laurence Olivier award for Best New Comedy in its incarnation at the West End, with a cast headed by Ralph Fiennes.  Its Broadway production won the Tony Awards for Best Play, and Best Director for a Play (Matthew Warchus).  There were only four characters in this play, and all four actors (Jeff Daniels, Hope Davies, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden) got nominated for Tonys for Best Leading Actor/Actress in a Play!  Marcia Gay Harden won the prize as Veronica.

The story starts when two kids get involved in a fight in the school playground, where one hits another with a stick, causing the latter to lose two front incisors.  That night, the parents of the victim (Michael and Veronica) invite parents of the aggressor (Alan and Annette) to their home to discuss the event.  Their discussions start civilly enough.  But as the night wore on and as the rum bottle gets consumed, their conversations branch out into various sensitive topics, escalating into unexpected arguments and accusations between and among the two couples about each other.  The script is hilarious, sharp, spicy and vulgar!  There was much physical comedy involved as well.  Even their classy set was not spared from the action.  This play is excellently entertaining, as well as very thought-provoking, as it dealt with issues among men and women, especially between husbands and wives, as well as between the classes in society.  The play had only one act and one setting, lasting all of one hour and 30 minutes, without an intermission.

In the Atlantis Production, Michael and Veronica were played by Singaporean actor Adrian Pang and Lea Salonga, while Alan and Annette were played Art Acuna and Menchu Lauchengco.  I had already seen the Australian production of GOC at the Sydney Opera House before, so I had pretty high expectations to live up to.  I could not help to compare both productions as I watched. The stage of the RCBC Theater was absolutely beautiful last night.  It seemed that no expense was spared to achieve that tastefully modern living room in New York City.  The huge textured red wall that served as the backdrop was amazing to look at.  The furniture and other props were perfect, and it is fully understandable why they could not use real fresh yellow tulips for each show.

There were only members of this illustrious cast, so I can describe them one by one.  Their perfect delivery of the kilometric lines alone merit good notice.  You will also be amazed at the comedic timing of this talented ensemble as they throw their lines at each other with glee.  It was wonderful to watch.

Art Acuna - I have only known about him since last year when he got good notices as lead of an indie movie.  Since then, I have seen him in TV shows like "The Kitchen Musical" and "The Princess and I."  As the arrogant attorney constantly on his cellphone, the character of Alan was like more of the straight man in this black comedy.  Acuna plays Alan smartly and fully matches the wild energies of the other three, even if he did not have a particularly spectacular punchline. He does get to deliver the title phrase in one of his lines.

Adrian Pang - I had seen this Singaporean actor perform on stage before, also beside Lea Salonga, in a local production of "They're Playing Our Song."  I did not really find that show very memorable for some reason I do not remember.  Anyway in this play, I feel Mr. Pang missed some punch as the supposedly misogynistic macho guy Michael.  I remember in the Sydney show that I watched, the entire theater was electrified when Michael stood on the living room table to declare that he was a "f**king Neanderthal" and the laughter and applause that followed was thunderous. Last night, that strong line just fell on the wayside it seemed, with no one paying much attention to it.  It did not help that Pang seemed too refined to look like a "f**king Neanderthal".  If you recall that this role was played by the burly James Gandolfini on Broadway, you will see the picture.

Lea Salonga - As the committed Darfur activist and writer Veronica, Lea Salonga really went all-out and full force in this, one of her rare straight plays.  It was quite a surprise hearing Lea spout out all of those cuss words, so much against type.  It was fun!  I have to admit though that  throughout her performance, I could not help but be very concerned with her voice with all the shouting that her character had to do.  In the scene where Veronica was attacking her husband with the throw pillows, that precious voice was actually reaching its brink, it was scary.  And this was only opening night!  Maybe Lea should work with her voice coach more to develop a better and safer technique of stage shouting so that this matter of her voice would not get in the way of her future performances.

Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo -  What more can be said about this amazing actress that hasn't been said yet.  Even Lea Salonga herself called Menchu the "Queen of Philippine Theater" and you can see why in this play.  She can really transform herself into any character with conviction and credibility.  This was the same actress you saw as Diana Goodman in "Next to Normal" and Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd" to mention her more recent theater triumphs.  Now as Annette, Ms. Menchu nails all the spoken and physical comedic highlights of this high-strung role.  It was fierce and fearless.


Once again, Congratulations to Atlantis Productions and director Bobby Garcia for this excellent production.  God of Carnage will continue to run at the RCBC Theater only up to July 22, 2012.  There are already a couple of sold-out shows as of this writing.  Do not miss this run. Or else you will have to catch it in Singapore where it will also have a run later this year in November.

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