God of Carnage -- Beneath the Veneer

By Bob and Karen Isaacs

Two sets of modern parents had arranged a meeting to discuss a playground altercation between their two 11-year-old sons.  Into the pleasant home of Veronica and Michael Novak, Alan and Annette Raleigh enter to settle the problems that evolved from the altercation—the Novak son had two teeth broken apparently from being hit with a stick by the Raleigh son.  Both couples are amenable to a friendly settlement and to seal the matter they enjoy a cup of tea and some pastry.

But in  Yasmina Reza’s black comedy, God of Carnage, there really are problems regarding the attitudes toward the situation from both parties as the [;au unfolds on the opened up stage (handsomely created by Donald Eastman) of Hartford’s TheaterWorks  . 

The need for an apology from the Raleigh son and the recognition that he was provoked by the Novak son is not easily achieved.  Likewise the spouses do not necessarily agree on several matters concerning the amenable settlement. The introduction of a bottle of rum helps to loosen things up even more. Annette Raleigh gets seriously nauseated and throws up. Unfortunately she does this on a prized book that becomes the center of an attempt to clean it up and then dry after it out.

While all this is going on Alan, an attorney, is being called on his cell phone continuously and he has to step aside – but not completely -- from the central action to answer it and deal with an issue regarding the safety of a prescribed drug. To complicate matters Michael’s mother calls and he advises her not to take her medicine which is the one under consideration by Alan. She is not satisfied with his limited explanations and keeps calling back. 

Eventually all the aspects of the situation become inter-related and bring to a boil the passions – so far kept  tightly under control -- as the veneer of civilized discourse begins to crack and eventually crumbles as the adult parties illustrate that they have much in common with their 11-year-old sons.

Director Tazewell Thompson moves this one-acter along as his performers engage with each other and among themselves.  There is a rising crescendo of voice and movement that could easily turn into a street fight.  Each of the couples has its own marital problems that match the problems that they are dealing with regarding their sons. Wynn Harmon as Michael and Candy Buckley as Veronica are very strong in their roles; in fact Candy sometimes seems to be overdoing her passionate emotion vis-à-vis her husband and their guests.   The other couple, the Raleighs, is an unequal match for the Novaks. Royce Johnson as Alanis perhaps a little too reserved although he can get down and dirty.  The least effective of the performers was Susan Bennett as Annette Veronica. But this may be because she is the one who gets sick and spends some of her time on stage with her head buried in a bucket.

This Tony Award winner is a nasty little play that reflects the playwright’s vision of modern civilization. She demonstrated this earlier in her multiple-award-winning work ART.  Beneath the civilized social veneer of modern society lurks a savage instinct that emerges when the going gets tough. She certainly brings in the potential class conflicts, and with Thompson’s multiracial casting, the possibility of racism, although unspoken, also emerges. That may be adding one too many issues to this piece.

God of Carnage is atTheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl St. in Downtown Hartford, through Dec. 19. For tickets and information call 860-527-7838 or online at theaterworkshartford.org.

This review appeared in Shore Publications.

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