God of Carnage: Movie vs play

Fred Hawson
If you've only seen the film adaptation, here's a guarantee that the play will blow you away

GOD OF CARNAGE IS a 'story about manners without the manners,' according to a YouTube video by TennesseeRep

MANILA, Philippines – The story of “God of Carnage” (shortened to “Carnage” in the 2011 film version) begins when two kids get involved in a fight in a playground, where one hits another on the face with a stick, causing the latter to lose two front incisors.

That night, the parents of the victim, Michael and Veronica (Penelope in the movie) invite parents of the aggressor, Alan and Annette (Nancy in the movie) to their home to discuss the event.

Their discussions start civilly enough. But as the night wore on and as the rhum (scotch in the movie) 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.

I have seen the stage version (entitled “God of Carnage”) twice, first in Sydney and the more recent one here in Manila. The play had only one act and one setting, lasting all of one hour and 30 minutes, without an intermission.

Both times, it had been excellently entertaining, as well as very thought-provoking, as it dealt with issues among men and women, especially between husbands and wives, and even between the classes in society.

Atlantis Production’s version of “God of Carnage” featured two female greats of Philippine musical theater in one of their rare appearances in a straight play: Ms. Lea Salonga and Ms. Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo. These two women certainly do not disappoint, with their passionate performances as Veronica and Annette respectively.

THE CAST OF ATLANTIS Productions and Singapore Repertory Theater's 'God of Carnage.' Image from www.altantisproductionsinc.com

Their husbands are played by Singaporean actor Adrian Pang (as Michael) and Art Acuna (as Alan), who match the effusive acting energies of their esteemed female partners. 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.  

The stage of the RCBC Theater with that huge textured red wall that served as the backdrop was amazing to look at. The furniture and other props were perfect, no expense was spared.  (It is fully understandable, though, why they could not use real fresh yellow tulips for each show.)

In the movie, the prestigious cast were all Oscar winners or nominees, and they were all indeed very earnest in their roles. Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly played Penelope and Michael, while Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz played Nancy and Alan.

Don’t get me wrong, they are all very good as would be expected of actors of their caliber. It was also impressive that the film was shot in real time and without breaks.

However, I found that their performances were too serious and severe, losing the original spirit of the play. I know that theater and cinema are different animals, but I would expect the spirit that moves within both versions to be the same.

In the play, the script is hilarious, sharp, spicy and vulgar, with much physical comedy involved as well — clearly a black comedy. However, this movie seemed totally devoid of a sense of humor, just black without comedy.

The screenplay had basically the same words in the play, as adapted by the original playwright Yasmina Reza. However, under the heavy-handed direction and co-writing by Roman Polanski, these same words managed to become a dry, lifeless, endless rant by 4 hopelessly miserable people.

I am glad I saw the play first, the way the story was originally supposed to be told. It may be interesting to see the movie after you have seen the play to see how it could be adapted to the big screen.

However, if you see this pensive, downbeat movie first, you might make the unfortunate decision NOT to watch the fantastic, hilarious play.

So do not content yourself with just deciding to watch that DVD of “Carnage.”  

Here is the movie version’s trailer:

If you missed the play’s limited run at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium in RCBC, catch it in Singapore where it will also have a run this November. – Rappler.com

(Fred Hawson is a blogger who loves music, movies and Carly Rae Jepsen. Read more of his reviews at his blog, Fred Said…)


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