note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
Playground battles between youngsters have ruined parents’ friendships. Oftentimes, parents cheering for their children at football, hockey, basketball and baseball games resort to savagery, bowing to the God of Carnage, screaming “Get ‘im!” “Kill ‘im!” and other brutalities, resulting in the unspeakable. Parents arguing about their children’s actions have turned violent, post-game, ending in murder. Playwright Yasmina Reza doesn’t get overwrought in her one-act, internationally popular, award-winning play, “God of Carnage,” which is taking stages by storm. She waxes farcical in her comedy, which she refers to as a tragedy.
Apparently, parents and kids in her Parisian neighborhood aren’t different than Americans. Kids fight on playgrounds, while parents try to make nice in the aftermath. Oftentimes, those civilized meetings end in bigger emotional brawls.
Reza’s play, (translated by Christopher Hampton and currently appearing at Huntington Theatre Company’s Boston University Theatre through Feb. 5), satirizes the situation, which rapidly escalates from a polite meeting to a screwy, over-the-top free-for-all, with couples verbally and physically attacking their spouses and each other.
Dane Laffrey’s meticulously designed, handsome set, which includes an opening, opaque scrim that has the image of an enlarged hamster running across it, provides ideal fodder for this hyperbolic confrontation.
Veronica and Michael Novak invited Alan and Annette Raleigh to their tony Brooklyn townhouse to discuss the Raleighs’ son Benjamin’s “attack” on their 11-year-old son, Henry, which occurred in their upscale neighborhood playground. The parents figured out after Henry refused to let Benjamin join his gang, Benjamin belted Henry in the mouth with a big stick, knocking out Henry’s front teeth - or as Vernoica icily states, “disfiguring” her son.
The couples engage in small talk as Veronica serves coffee and claflouti. Their conversation is constantly interrupted by lawyer Alan’s business calls on his cellphone, irritating Annette. Michael’s phone rings a few times, too, with calls from his ailing mother. However, Veronica, with paper and pen in hand, is undeterred. She says she wants to speak with Benjamin by herself. She wants Benjamin to apologize to Henry. This all sounds reasonable enough, until the two couples’ flaws emerge, escalating tensions.
Annette becomes nauseous and spews over Veronica’s priceless art tomes. She angrily insists Henry isn’t faultless because he insulted Benjamin. “An insult is a kind of assault,” she screams.
When Veronica angrily announces even-tempered Michael took Henry’s hamster and released the pet, alone and defenseless, on their busy Brooklyn street, the two women assail him. Round and round the anger goes, where it stops, we finally know.
This accomplished cast --- Johanna Day (Veronica), Stephen Bogardus (Michael), Brooks Ashmanskas (Alan) and Christy Pusz (Annette) --- deftly directed by Daniel Goldstein, are outstanding. Their energetic timing and tirades are a treat.
Although “God of Carnage” is widely acclaimed --- the Broadway version starred Marcia Gay Harden and James Gandolfini, and Roman Polanski directs the movie version opening this month, starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christopher Waltz and John C. Reilly --- I was disappointed in it. There’s so much fodder in parent confrontations, but Reza concentrates satirically on these parents’ personality pitfalls, drifting away from her original premise.
Nobody minds, though. Let’s face it- everyone loves a good brawl, as long as we’re watching it, not in it.
BOX INFO: One act, Tony and Olivier award-winning hit comedy, written by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton, appearing at the Huntington Theatre Company’s Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston, through Feb. 5. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; Jan. 22, 2, 7 p.m.; matinees, Wednesday, Jan. 25, Feb. 1 at 2 p.m. Single tickets start at $25; seniors, subscribers, BU community, military, student, 35 Below discounts. Check for related events. Call 617-266-0800, visit huntingtontheatre.org, the Box Office, the Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., South End, Boston.