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Susan Louise O'Connor as Annette Raleigh and Eva Kaminsky as Veronica Novak. ©Photo by Sandy Underwood.
WARNING: This article contains spoilers. And puke.
Not long after the curtain parts on Yasmina Reza’s black comedy God of Carnage, bowing tonight at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, something shocking and memorable happens onstage.
From the play’s actual stage directions:
“Annette vomits violently. A brutal and catastrophic spray, part of which goes over Alain. The art books on the coffee table are likewise deluged.”
The vomit is, of course, symbolic of the emotional currents in the drama. One couple has been asked to meet with another to discuss a regrettable incident – one child has whacked another in the mouth with a stick, causing loss of teeth, and their respective parents agree to get together and discuss how to proceed after this act of juvenile savagery. The veneer of getting along is punctured repeatedly by various barbs and points of contention. The couples are ostensibly meeting to formulate a plan for teaching their children how civilized people behave; and then, of course, they can’t act civilized themselves.
Annette is a mousy-looking woman with a comically sharp, high voice. Mediating between the complaints of the other couple and the endless trial of her self-absorbed husband seems to have taken her right to the brink. She sits down on the sofa in the other couple’s chic apartment, buries her head in her hands, and then, without (much) warning, opens up like a spigot.
A spurting fountain of pale, vaguely yellow puke exits her mouth (really, a special-effects tube of some sort that must be hidden somewhere, but more on that in a moment) in a cavalcade of shock and wonder. The other characters are appropriately aghast. As the stage directions, above, say, it splashes onto her husband’s clothes and her host’s library. Buckets are fetched. Soothing words are spoken. But the damage has been done—the upchuck has desecrated the scene like pig’s blood in a temple. Things will not be the same.
The vomit scene is a cinema-style special effect that I wanted to explore, but the director of God of Carnage at the Rep, Edward Stern, asked that we not reveal the secrets of the presumed pumps and tubes, and the concocting of the fake chyme (i.e., stomach fluids) here. We can only guess as to the nasty magic that makes Annette’s reverse rainbow, if you will, so realistic.
Let it be said that aesthetically, this is great puke. The color, consistency, force, and arc of it are not foreign to any of us who’ve outlived a 24-hour flu. The character of the vomit was not at all like the fudgy-green pea soup that exited Regan’s (Linda Blair) maw in “The Exorcist,” but that was demon-puke, with which one may take liberties.
Three cheers for our Repertory Theatre of St. Louis prop crew. They nailed it. If you’re a “sympathetic puker,” a la that famous scene in Stand by Me, you may want to bring a barf bag. And indeed, that’s no insult, but praise of the most visceral order.
Visit www.repstl.org for more info on and tickets to God of Carnage. And look for Kate Winslet’s vomit scene in the film version, Carnage , directed by Roman Polanski, splashing into U.S. cinemas in December.