By Edith McCauley
Two upper-middle-class couples meet to rationally discuss a confrontation between their sons on the school playground resulting in the loss of Michael (Keith Kupferer) and Veronica’s (Mary Beth Fisher) child’s tooth. Alan (David Pasques) and Annette (Beth Lacke), parents of the “attacker,” seem reasonable. Their only objection seems to be Veronica’s description of their child as armed. The situation rapidly deteriorates.
Playwright Yasmina Reza, whose former works include Art, which premiered in Paris in 1994 and later received worldwide recognition, brings to the Goodman’s stage another play, God of Carnage, that centers on the violence that often erupts over seemingly trivial matters. Reza’s reputation as a “comedic playwright” is rather complicated. She insists her works are tragedies that “happen to be funny.” The audience at the Goodman responded to the mayhem on stage with constant laughter. The ridiculous interchanges that ended in such “bad behavior” confirms her theory.
Michael is a middle-class merchant selling household necessities. His wife, Veronica, is researching a book on Darfur, and her collection of books illustrating fine art covers every available surface. The discrepancy in their relationship is obvious. Alan, a lawyer representing a pharmaceutical company, constantly conducts his business on his cell phone, much to the dismay of Annette, the quiet one. It is she who reveals the most outrageous behavior, ending the play with actions completely unforeseen. You have to see it to believe it.
The title of the play, God of Carnage, is voiced by Alan in a long dissertation on the human frailties that have historically resulted in violence throughout the history of mankind. Veronica, from the beginning the voice of reason, completely loses control. Michael’s introduction of a bottle of fine rum brings the whole situation to its final climax.
The stark white set with soaring windows contrasts sharply with the black and gray costumes of the actors. Three huge bouquets of colorful tulips lend color and become a part of the final scene.
God of Carnage runs an uninterrupted 90 minutes. The timing is perfect. Rick Snyder of Steppenwolf, where he also directed Art, uses his expertise to stage an incredibly difficult work. My compliments to all involved.
God of Carnage runs through April 10. Tickets are on sale at the box office at 170 N. Dearborn or by phone, (312) 443-3800. Ask about their special rates for students and groups.
Having seen Artists’ Ensemble’s Mauritius, it was fun to see another production that so involved “bad behavior.”
From the March 30-April 5, 2011, issue