Vernon God Little was the first play at Downstage that I didn’t really enjoy. There were parts of it that certainly were very funny and had me laughing, but not enough.
The play had 21 cast playing over 50 roles, and focuses on Vernon whose best friends kills 16 bullies at his school, and them himself. The media turn Vernon into a scapegoat, and he flees to escape a possible death penalty as an accomplice.
Most of my issues are with the plot itself (taken from the book), rather than the production. In fact some of the youthful cast from the Long Cloud Youth Theatre did an excellent job in playing their characters, and I would happily see more of their productions in future.
The play was billed as a biting satire of the America we love to hate. Now I love satire – Le Sud was an excellent example of satire at its best. But I thought this got closer to caricature than satire.
The trouble is almost all the characters were “ugly” Americans, and you (or me anyway) need some characters who are likeable.
I also found the play too long, with a convuluted story. The interval didn’t come until 90 minutes into it, and I had to check the programme to work out if this was the end or not. Upon finding we were only half way through I slipped out – the play just had not gained my interest enough, plus I was at risk of being towed if not out by 10 pm (I must check production times in advance in future).
Possibly not by coincidence, I find that Wikipedia says about the book:
Out of 4,000 Britons polled, 35% of those who started reading this book did not finish it.
I seem to be one of the 35%. As I said there was some very talented and funny acting achieved by the cast, and I did enjoy much of it. Possibly it is my own sensitivity to perceived anti-americanism that meant it didn’t resonate with me, and others could well rave about it. I understand an an intellectual level it was in fact trying to combat anti-americanism, but somehow it just didn’t work for me. Maybe if I had seen the second half, it would have.
However for a very different take, John Smyth at Theatre Review gives it high praise:
It’s a long but well-paced production, full of sound, fury and dark comedy that finally delivers the goods, not least with a well-crafted twist that ensures we don’t leave the theatre bereft of hope. While Vernon God Little has been validly described as the new generation’s Catcher in the Rye, its broad satirical theatricality also recalls Dario Fo.
I’d be interested in feedback from others as to how they found it.Or have you read the book and what did you think of it?
Thanks as always to Downstage for the review tickets.