by Dalia Wolfson God of Carnage, by Yasmina Reza, reveals the violence and animal instincts of daily, mundane encounters in the living room in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Eleven year-old Benjamin, armed with a stick, hit his peer Henry, knocking out two teeth. This incident brings their parents Veronica and Michael, Annette and Alan together to discuss the next step in educating and disciplining their sons. The fast-paced 90-minute play tracks the unraveling of a polite discussion into a safari of sorts, with the two couples’ attacking each other and themselves as their social barriers crumble.
God of Carnage is particularly enjoyable because of Matthew Warchus’ directorial talent. The characters rearrange themselves throughout the play, sitting in different seats, collapsing on couches, strolling around the stage and, in the final moments, all are found to be in states of disarray with their knees on the floor – a sort of descent of man to the most primitive, crawling form of mobility. The set is also used masterfully, so that each prop – be it yellow cleaning gloves, white tulips or a limited-edition Kokoschka art book – is not merely a stage piece, but an object that merits interaction and attention. The roles of the characters conjure up a nice balance: one couple consists of an art history teacher and a department store owner who gleefully discusses toilet fittings, while the other pair includes a lawyer and a job in wealth management. The socioeconomic differences in the two sets of parents are outlined by their speech and clothing and, eventually, verbalization of values through the dialogue. The root “carn” (flesh ) in Latin reveals itself in many forms: carnage, carnal desire, reincarnation and other visceral, instinctual words. These concepts are introduced throughout the play, placed as focal points in the struggle between high society’s discipline (upheld by Veronica, the art history teacher who respects sophistication) and raw, animalistic behavior (represented by Michael, the ‘neanderthal’ who settles for a “second rate” lifestyle). While a philosophical thread runs through the performance, God of Carnage skirts around this conflict with a generous dose of physical humor and a rapid hour-and-a-half long duration that leaves the audience feeling that somehow, the issues have not been fully fleshed out.
God of Carnage illuminates the tension between the primitive and the civilized, and ultimately this play is rather relevant to our generation; the slow, painstaking process of maturity is a concept that teens encounter in our daily existence. God of Carnage may not explore these issues to a point of satisfaction, but is worth seeing because it does raise vital questions about human nature that are pertinent to adolescents as they attempt to find a balance in this helter-skelter world.
TICKETS: $26.50 student rush • Bernard B Jacobs Theatre, 242 W. 45th St.