God of Carnage
Stendhal X, Montreal
“We’re always on our own everywhere,” says one of the characters toward the end of God of Carnage, Yasmina Reza’s acute 2006 play about the fragility of our civilized veneer. That aloneness is precisely what Stendhal X’s adaptation spotlights as we witness two couples meet for the first time in an attempt to resolve the bloody outcome of a fight between their young, respective sons.
The attempt, of course, is fruitless. As alliances between the four rapidly shift and long-buried resentments claw their way to the surface, homophobia, race and general human ugliness consume the meeting, leaving the attempt at resolution in tatters. It’s a little like what you imagine the end of civilization to look like, with everyone isolated because they’ve abandoned their common humanity.
Stendhal X’s finely tuned production is set in Montreal, giving the play – which opened in North America on Broadway several years ago – a new immediacy for local audiences. By making one of the couples same sex (Rebecca Bauer as Michelle and Cleopatra Boudreau as Veronica), Stendhal X’s adaptation also highlights the play’s gender and sexual identity themes (Ryan Downey and Annie Luján play the other couple, Alan and Annette). Stylized, ritualistic scenes have been created for this production as well, shattering the realism of the original play to spotlight the tenuousness of our perceived reality and suggesting that our rituals of polite behaviour are a thin veneer over ancient, bloody rituals that bubble just beneath the surface.
Stendhal X’s name presumably references the 19th-century French novelist Stendhal. The company’s God of Carnage – powerfully acted under director Noah Drew – hews closely to Stendhal’s psychological slant even as it delights in tearing open superficial reality to reveal the darker one beneath it.
… like nobody’s watching
Jake Simonds, Portland, U.S.A.
The great American monologist Spalding Gray is believed to have committed suicide by drowning himself in 2004. Chuck Noland, the hero of the 2000 movie Cast Away starring Tom Hanks, had a volleyball called Wilson that was his only companion during four years on an uninhabited island.
Using these two threads of American culture, and mixing them with other cultural references and elements of social critique, Jake Simonds attempts to fashion a one-man show about isolation and loneliness in contemporary life.
Simonds, dressed in a loin cloth, appears to be cast up on a desert island with just a talking soccer ball for company. He tries to start a fire with a stick and a chunk of wood. He talks about Cast Away and other films that deal with being alone. He meditates on what a bummer it is when someone else has more Facebook notifications than you do.
Simonds’s meandering journey through the detritus of modern existence is largely uneventful and, while meant to be funny, is mostly ponderous and frequently confusing. Loneliness is often touted as a peculiarly contemporary malady, but the topic needs a sharper focus than this.
The Last Spartan
Jamine Ackert, Ottawa
Peopled with richly drawn characters and situations, alternately very funny and a stern warning, and set in a place long ago and far away that feels eerily close to here and now, Pierre Brault’s newest work stands to rank among his best solo pieces.
In The Last Spartan, which premiered Friday night before a large and enthusiastic audience, Brault plays five characters in ancient, military-minded Sparta. The main one is Kaphalos, a soldier with some knowledge of the law who’s been brought in to defend Dorion of Laconia, a brash and vibrant playwright who’s been arrested for blasphemy and sedition in a state that believes art exists only to serve the needs of the state.
Other characters include Kaphalos’s estranged wife and the bellicose Lysander, a wielder of power in Sparta.
Despite some opening-night missteps, Brault pivots between the characters and settings in riveting fashion, wearing just a toga and using virtually no props on a set-less stage. His theme — that art enriches our lives, embodies history that would otherwise be lost and is essential to democracy because it debates important issues — rings with clarity but never clamours.
Brault began working on this show long before Trumpism, populism and the resurgence of far-right voices in Europe. His depiction of wilful ignorance, censorship and the continuing struggles of art to drive home its messages feels uncomfortably prescient.
These plays were reviewed Friday. The Ottawa Fringe Festival continues until June 24 at various downtown venues. ottawafringe.com, 613-232-6162.