By Donald V. Calamia, EncoreMichigan.com
As the saying goes: Boys will be boys. It’s probably safe to assume that the first 11-year-old boys to roam the earth probably played together, scuffled together, picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and went back to playing together without giving much thought to their disagreement. That’s what boys do.
Parents, however, are a different beast altogether. And as playwright Yasmina Reza reveals in the dark comedy “God of Carnage” at Broadway Onstage in Eastpointe, their behavior can be far more destructive and permanent (and childish) than anything inflicted by one child upon another in a city park.
The one-act, 90-minute play takes place in the living room of Veronica (Krista Schafer) and Michael (Rick Mason) Novak, whose 11-year-old son had two teeth knocked out earlier that day by the son of Annette (Sharron Nelson) and Alan (Eric Niece) Raleigh. The two couples have come together to discuss the situation in a “civilized” manner, but that doesn’t last long. “We can’t get involved in our children’s quarrels,” one parent says – and so they create a much bigger and more ridiculous fight all their own.
Reza’s script (translated by Christopher Hampton) is a rarity, in that it focuses on four unlikable characters, none of which you’d like to associate with or root for to win their argument. (I felt that way about the TV series “Seinfeld,” as well.) Alan is an obnoxious, high-powered attorney who’d rather focus on a work crisis than waste his time on a petty matter such as a childhood fight.
Veronica is his nemesis: a pretentious moralist and control freak, who writes books about Africa without ever having been there to personally observe and understand the political crises therein. Michael, a proud wholesaler of household goods, is a people-pleaser with few opinions of his own. And Annette describes herself as working in “wealth management” – meaning she lives to spend her husband’s money. Add to the mix a top-notch bottle of rum, and the combustible combination explodes in an ugly orgy of revelations, accusations and changing alliances from which the totally self-centered participants may never recover.
To be honest, I walked into Broadway Onstage wondering how well this small, storefront theater known mostly for frothy original comedies and musicals would tackle such a tough and meaty script. I left 90 minutes later mostly satisfied with the result.
At first I questioned the casting, as there was a visual disconnect between the husbands and their wives. (They looked mismatched because of their age differences.) But only minutes into the play it became obvious that director Dennis Wickline chose each woman for the correct character. Schafer perfectly captured the condescending tone moralists such as Veronica take when dealing with their “inferiors,” while Nelson’s rum-induced loosening of Annette’s tongue had the audience laughing quite loudly.
As an ensemble, the four work well together. But the contrast between their behavior at the play’s beginning and end needs to be greater. (All seemed itching for a fight the minute the show began on opening night.)
My only other quibbles are technical: When the phone rings, the sound comes from the opposite side of the stage; the apartment walls are a bit too distracting; and the infamous (and difficult-to-accomplish) “throw up scene” needs some more oomph and substance.
Reza’s script, which won the 2009 Tony Award for Best Play, stands as testament to the depths we as adults often sink to – where a routine childhood fight explodes into major cultural warfare between self-absorbed adults. It’s not pretty. It’s not behavior to be proud of. But it sure provides us with food for thought as we leave the theater both entertained and saddened by the despicable behavior we just observed.
Donald V. Calamia is the editorial director of EncoreMichigan.com, the state’s most comprehensive resource for news and information about Michigan’s professional theaters. He is also the theater editor of Between The Lines, for which he created The Wilde Awards, a “must attend” annual event at Detroit’s Gem Theatre that honors the work produced by the state’s professional theaters. Calamia is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Theatre Critics Association.