Hypocrisies Of The Privileged
By R. J. Donovan
In the Tony Award-winning "God of Carnage," now at The Huntington, a tony Manhattan townhouse becomes an emotional and physical boxing ring.
Two sets of parents have gathered to discuss a fight that's taken place between their young sons. Was this just kids being kids, or was something more happening? Judging from the attitude of the victim's parents, the United Nations should be called in to conduct the negotiations.
The meeting finds the four adults beginning the gathering as refined human beings. But it doesn't take long for their facades to drop. And the end result is explosive.
Playwright Yasmina Reza has a way with creating detailed characters that are readily identifiable, sometimes to the point of cliche. And she cleverly braids into her script personal history and hurt that's triggered by the seemingly innocuous discussion at hand.
Through the course of the intermission-less evening, confidences are betrayed, old arguments are inflamed and alliances form, dissolve and reconfigure. At one point the couples are united against one another only to have the game shift to find the men against the women and then have three pile on against one. They ultimately chew each other up like they're inhabiting an alternate universe "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe."
The parents of Ben, the victim who lost two teeth, are Veronica (Johanna Day) Michael Novak (Stephen Bogardus). The obsessive, pretentious, micromanaging Veronica is chic, carefully dressed and carries an air of New York's Upper East Side. She writes about Darfur, believes in the art of coexistence, swoons over a pretentious dessert called clafouti and covets her art books as though they were religious relics. Husband Michael is right beside her, until he isn't. He makes his living from plumbing hardware.
The parents of Michael, the perpetrator, are Alan (Brooks Ashmanskas) and Annette Raleigh (Christy Pusz). Annette is meek but agreeable. When she has a panic attack and vomits all over Veronica's collection of coffee table books, she gains few points. Her husband is a lawyer who spends his life with a cellphone cupped to his ear. He's in the midst of advising a pharmaceutical client who may or may not be killing it's clientele with a faulty drug. And although he is supposed to be downplaying the attack while defending his son, he blatantly blurts, "Benjamin is a savage!"
As the four debate the minutia of filing a written statement on the boy's altercation and negotiating a suitable admission of guilt -- Veronica also insists on an apology, and that the kid mean it -- it becomes clear the four adults care more about the fight than perhaps the boys ever did. In truth, the parents go after each other with far more malice and aggression than exhibited by the two kids.
As directed by Daniel Goldstein, the cast sharply defines the four unique characters, with each having a moment to land a stinger or two. The ultimate conclusion: "Courtesy is a waste of time." And while the four are apparently having this kerfuffle for the sake of their sons, the underlying sentiment is that "Children consume our lives. They destroy them."
The drawback (for me anyway) is how cruel the show becomes. I had the same reaction many years ago with Reza's "Art." Somehow the humor crosses a line to become increasingly mean for the sake of being mean. Once the ugly onslaught begins, there's nothing subtle about it. But hey, the audience on opening night was killing themselves over each verbal and physical attack.
In an interesting coincidence, the film version of the play, simply called "Carnage," opens this month starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christoph Walz.
"God of Carnage" is at The Huntington Theatre through February 5. For information, call 617-266-0800.
-- Production Photo: T. Charles Erickson
-- OnStage Boston
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