God of Carnage

by David A. Rosenberg

It starts as a trickle of cordiality and ends in a torrent of animosity. That’s “God of Carnage,” Yasmina Reza’s 90-minute, no intermission, Tony Award play about a quartet of unpleasant people. Sadly, Westport’s Music Theater of Connecticut, which has given us some fine shows recently, comes a cropper with this hesitant, unbalanced production.

Two married couples meet to iron out problems brought on by a playground battle between their 11-year-old sons. Starting in a civilized manner, the veneer of polite, reasonable conversation is soon punctured. They’re middle-class people reacting like trailer-trash viragos. As chinks appear, they revert to boorish insults and childish tantrums.

The presumed perpetrator’s parents are Alan, a hot-shot lawyer forever on his cell phone, and Annette, an elegant wealth manager. While Alan maneuvers to keep his pharmaceutical client out of trouble, Annette shows that beneath her good manners she’s a boiling cauldron of resentments.

The parents of the kid who lost two teeth in the fight are Veronica and Michael. She’s proud of her writing on, and concern for, such troubled places as Darfur. He, who seems attentive and loving, has unfeelingly abandoned his daughter’s pet hamster on the street. (He says he can’t touch rodents, the rat.)

For the playwright, the fault is not only with the world, but us. Wider problems are an extension of our narrower ones. If supposedly civilized people in Brooklyn can’t get along, how can we expect peace in Darfur? (Although originally written in French, the play was translated and adapted by Christopher Hampton for the London stage, then Americanized for Broadway)

As tempers flare, loyalties shift. Couple against couple devolves into husband against wife, then men against women. The clash-of-classes comedy becomes evermore brittle and dark. Coziness gives way to carnage then regret in an ending that should be poignant but here is not.

In director Mark Torres’ unsubtle production, the actors are inauthentic puppets rather than flesh-and-blood characters. Marty Bongfeldt as Annette, John Flaherty as Alan, Cynthia Hannah as Veronica and Jim Schilling as Michael should have been tethered, rather than let loose.

For the record, the Broadway production starred James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis and Jeff Daniels. The movie had a no less formidable cast: Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Walz. The play was a hit, the movie was not.

At MTC, we get an irritating production of this searing play, further toppled by an interpolated ad-lib about the Super Bowl. Wonder if that put a curse on the Broncos.

 

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