God of Carnage. Let's start with the setting, so pristine, white, minimal and tasteful — chairs with gracefully curving legs, a glass table on which art books are meticulously arranged, a vase of white tulips, nicely grouped, with just one flower swaying slightly out to the side. Even if you didn't know the play's title, you'd know what's about to happen in this room: mayhem, fury, disintegration and chaos. And believe me, the evening doesn't disappoint. We're in the home of Veronica and Michael Novak. He's a businessman specializing in household goods, she's an art-loving do-gooder currently at work on a book about Darfur. Their visitors are the Raleighs: Alan, a sharklike lawyer, and his wife, Annette, a wealth-management specialist in a sharply well-defined suit. The couples' eleven-year-old sons got into a fight on the playground, and now the four parents have come together to talk about the altercation and agree on a course of action. Things are amicable for a while, but once the veneer starts to slip, it slips more crazily than you could ever have imagined. You think rage will erupt because the parents are protective of their children, but in fact, no one expresses a shred of interest in those boys. You think the issue is going to be Alan's work: He represents a pharmaceutical company that deliberately hid information about the dangers posed by one of its drugs — a drug it turns out Michael's mother is taking. You think cracks will appear in the marriages or the men will gang up on the women or the women on the men. And indeed, almost all of this happens — but never in the way you expect. Which is why this is one of the funniest ninety minutes you'll ever spend in a theater. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through June 16, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, curioustheatre.org. Reviewed May 2.
Long Day's Journey Into Night. The Tyrone household in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a bitter and unhappy one. At the head of the clan is James, a onetime actor who abandoned his goal of genuine artistry for a comfortable paycheck. Raised in desperate poverty, terrified of the poorhouse, he has become a grasping miser, clinging for dear life onto whatever he has. His sons, Jamie and Edmund, believe that his stinginess caused their mother’s morphine addiction: Edmund’s birth was a difficult one, and James refused to pay for a first-rate doctor to help his wife, Mary, with the pain. Now Edmund himself is in need of medical care, and it seems James will repeat the pattern and allow his unreasoning thrift to doom his youngest. As if all this weren’t enough fodder for rage, Jamie blames Edmund for the fact that his birth caused Mary’s debilitation. Malicious and angry statements are so commonplace in this family that half the time the recipient doesn’t even bother to respond. And, of course, there’s also bitter and frustrated love. One of the reasons this production works so well is that it respects the playwright’s language, which means what can easily be heard as a gush of self-pity, invective and moony reminiscence takes on clarity and contour, and you sense the grandeur in the expression. The characters become comprehensible: James Tyrone’s deep love for his wife and his despair at the realization that he’s losing her to addiction; Edmund’s lonely despair at the diagnosis of tuberculosis and the inability of anyone in his narcissistic family to offer understanding or comfort; the way Mary’s self-romanticizing memories have become her only defense against a terrifying loneliness. Ed Baierlein’s James Tyrone is a man who has given up the fight but still can’t forgive himself for it. And his low-key, self-effacing approach both throws the household’s wrangling into high relief and creates a quiet space in which that wrangling finds shape and meaning. Erica Sarzin-Borrillo’s Mary matches Baierlein’s performance for power. She’s every bit as self-absorbed as you expect, but she’s animated by a current of feeling so pure, deep and clear that you can forgive her almost everything. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through June 9, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, germinalstage.com. Reviewed May 23.
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