What happens when good manners dictate our behavior in a social setting, but people get tired of playing by those rules?
That's the question Yazmina Reza's God of Carnage asks, the second Studio Series production of the Warehouse Living Arts Center's 2019 line-up, where total chaos reigns supreme.
The play's setting focuses on two New York couples: The Novaks, played by John F. Kaiser III and Danielle Pillans, and the Raleighs, played by Cody Beauchamp and Teresa Roberson. After the two sons get into a fight where the Novak's boy gets two teeth knocked out, the couples meet to find a peaceful way to reconcile the injury.
The problem is, none of these people are really as civil as they'd like to say they are.
The tension is underlying from the first scene on. Someone drops a side comment that doesn't sit too well. Another character isn't afraid to claim they know it all, much to the annoyance of the others. There's a sense of one-upmanship when it comes to civility and status, and as the two couples continue their discussion, it's clear that no one is on anyone's side, though temporary partnerships form between characters that briefly share points of view.
Part of the humor of the first half of the performance comes from awkward silence, which is one of the harder forms of comedy. Not everyone can pull this type of humor off, but there are natural moments found in the forced conversations between these characters that can't relate to each other, and don't care to. The result is relatable and funny, and the audiences feel that shared tension of the room. The first half focuses on these moments until everyone decides to drop all pretenses and let their dysfunctions come out.
By the time the conflict of this one act play kicks in, common courtesy is off the table. A few temporary alliances form, but at this point the stage becomes a more physical experience and anything goes. These highlights take place not only in the energetic performances, but the stage lighting shifts to match the darker moods. The language of their arguments are harsh and flow as freely as the alcohol the characters imbibe just to deal with each other.
Each of the four member cast bring their own specific brand of quirkiness to their roles. Michael (Kaiser) is quick with a “Can I just say this” answer and example for everything. Veronica (Pillans) makes it clear that she sees herself as the most enlightened of the group. Alan (Beauchamp) would rather be anywhere else but in this house with these people, and Annette (Roberson) is exhausted by her husband’s constant rudeness and lack of attention to anything. The only things that these characters have in common is that they loathe each other.
Despite its dark tone, there are some great one-liners and physical performances that got several laughs from the preview audience. Casting the diminutive Pillans alongside Kaiser's big frame as the husband and wife team of the Novaks is a comedy moment in itself, as are the sheer moments of “over it” exasperation from Beauchamp and Roberson as the Raleighs.
The biggest change is the stage itself. Taking note between the Before and After of the setting as the final bows are made is striking. The actors give it their all in making the stage their personal playground of destruction.
Overall, God of Carnage is an enjoyable dark comedy that aims to push boundaries and present a real look at people when they are at their worst and no longer care they've reached that point. It may unsettle people who are adverse to harsh language, but the ride from beginning to end is entertaining.