MTC serves up verbal fencing match in God of Carnage

Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage begins innocently enough.

A playground incident causes two sets of parents to meet to discuss how they should go forward with their boys. However, with the heated topic of opinions on parenting the issue of the night, things slowly devolve from keeping up appearances to full-out war between the couples.

Reza’s Tony and Olivier award-winning verbal battle is being presented by the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre March 15 to April 7 at the John Hirsch Mainstage.

Originally presented in French in 2006, the 90-minute play was translated into English and premiered in 2008. Made up of four players, the original British and American casts featured big names, including Ralph Fiennes, Janet McTeer, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden, respectively.

It was also adapted into Roman Polanski’s Carnage last year starring Kate Winslet.

Directed by Miles Potter, the couples for the MTC production are comprised of actors Oliver Becker, Shauna Black, John Cassini and Vickie Papavs.

Cassini plays Alan Raleigh, the father of the aggressor, who knocks the Novaks’ boy’s teeth out with a stick following an argument.

“I’ve been enjoying the play immensely,” Cassini says over the phone from his hotel room. “It’s a challenging play. One of the things that attracted me to this play, mostly, was how verbal it was. I was really excited to delve into the amount of text, and the way that these guys function - they really use words as their weapons. We’re working really hard at making that come alive, and Miles (the director) is really great at guiding us.”

The action of the play is contained entirely in the living room of one of the family’s apartment.

“It’s the equivalent of a fencing match, but with words. And of course, all hell breaks loose. That’s what happens when parents try to tell other parents how to parent their own children. It’s never a good idea.”

Originally from Toronto, Cassini splits his time between Vancouver and Los Angeles. He has an extensive resumé with credits on both the stage and the screen, but no role could prepare him for God of Carnage quite like his daily role as a father.

“I have two boys, so I know well of this,” he says. “One of the things that also attracted me is that I do have kids, and I do understand that you can be very civil and try to be very respectful about situations, but when someone does discuss your kid or tries to step in and judge your child, something happens. It’s in your DNA. Your back goes up. There’s a lot of fuel there, and it’s very organic in the script.”

While Cassini has experienced this situation from the point of view of the parent of the victim, he has no problem coming to the defence of his scripted child.

“Alan does come from a different place than I am as a person, but I can see his side, and that’s why I think the play is so wonderfully written.

“Regardless of who you are, maybe what side you lean to naturally (politically), it’s written well enough where you can see the validity in what the other person is saying.”

God of Carnage plays from Thursday, March 15 to Saturday, April 7 at the John Hirsch Mainstage. Visit for more information.

Published in Volume 66, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 14, 2012)

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