Play strangely reassuring

May 13, 2016

L-R: US actor John C. Reilly playwright Yasmina Reza, film director Roman Polanski and British actress Kate Winslet at movie premiere of Carnage in Paris, Sunday 2011.

It has been a quiet week here in lawn-mower land watching trees drip as men in suits wheel out pork barrels.

Because I live in a bubble of comfort and bircher muesli, I seek out entertainment that makes me squirm and chew my knuckles.

At heart, I am a man of international danger and mystery, so Disney sugar holds absolutely no interest for me, unless it involves Beatles tunes.

I have never seen the point of watching or reading something that reaffirms your belief in the world.

Life is too short to be told something you already know.

Shepparton Theatre Arts Group’s production of the play God of Carnage is exactly my type of entertainment because it deals with discomfort, unease and anguish and does not have a superhero in sight.

And let’s be clear — I am not saying this because the Chief Gardener has directed the play.

I am saying this because during a preview this week I bit my nails to the quick watching people strip away the pretence of manners that we all live with.

The play is based on a wicked premise.

Two sets of parents meet to discuss a playground fracas in which one child hits another with a stick and breaks two teeth.

It’s the sort of thing that happens in every playground across the world every day.

Yet French playwright Yasmina Reza manages to squeeze from this everyday incident a terrifying gallery of human behaviour.

As the parents descend from polite conversation to swearing and physical violence we lose sight of where the playground begins and ends.

The characters are at first wrapped in bright cloaks of confidence and charm.

Then we realise how brittle and thin their cloaks really are.

Reza plunges the audience into the uncomfortable spectacle of watching ordinary people become naked — without actually losing their clothes.

The parents call each other names, hit each other and tell uncomfortable truths.

Allegiances shift between the couples — women against men, men against women, spouse against spouse.

Like global tycoons, these people go where the power shifts.

Yet despite dealing with big ideas, Reza keeps her characters real, human, damaged.

Bourgeois respectability and our sense of a moral universe might get stripped to the bones of loneliness, amorality, and existential horror, but these characters on stage are real people.

Phew, that is my kind of show.

No happy endings here.

I walked away with the final words of the play ‘‘What do we know?’’ ringing in my head.

Then I flagellated myself with an art magazine and a bottle of 1972 Spätburgunder.

But the curious thing is — after seeing human beings at their worst I was strangely reassured.

Despite knowing we live in an amoral universe, we strive tirelessly to create a moral one.

We want meaning in our lives.

That is sort of sad and funny at the same time.

John Lewis is chief of staff at The News.

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