Annette Raleigh: “How many parents standing up for their children become infantile themselves?”
The Raleighs and the Novaks meet to solve what seems a minor issue. Not long after these words, their skins thin out. For the next 60 minutes of Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, they do a Darwinian Devolve.
It all started on a playground. Annette’s (Kristianne Kurner) in “wealth management,” husband Alan’s (Manny Fernandes) a corporate lawyer joined at the hip to his cell phone. Their 11-year-old son, Benjamin, got smacked by a stick that broke two incisors and injured a nerve.
Eleven-year-old Henry Novak wielded the weapon. His father, Michael (Jeffrey Keith Jones), wholesales household goods; mother Veronica’s (Melssa Fernandes) a writer (a book out soon on the Darfur tragedy).
The parents meet at the Novak’s Cobble Hill home, a gentrified section of Brooklyn, to determine a proper course of action: should Henry apologize? In print? In person? At first the quartet negotiates like heads of state. “Fortunately,” opines Veronica, “there is still such a thing as the art of co-existence.”
As civility dissipates, Alan’s constantly on the phone doing legal damage control for Big Pharm. A new drug, Antril, has people banging into walls. Could be an international crisis. A few calls later, he shouts, “Murray is a dead man in two weeks, us with him.”
A few calls after that, wife Annette finally asserts herself and threatens to demolish the cell phone.
The outside world, the playwright pounds the point home, is savage. But when buttons get pushed and slurs abound, so is the Novaks' living room. Slowed by occasional stops to refuel — espresso, a savory apple/pear clafouti, and demon rum — the quartet goes primitive. Alan and Michael do variations on Hobbsian nihilism (not to mention misogyny and racism), Annette horks undigested clafouti onto Veronica’s rare art books, and “stain-resistant” Veronica labors to shine the light of reason in a Stone Age cave.
Carnage is mostly variations on a single event: “victims and executioners,” as Veronica terms it. But it isn’t just Survivor: The Home Game. Along with revealing the ogres behind the curtain, the playwright sustains interest by having them often change alliances — husband/wife; male/female; predator/prey. And throughout she does a subtle critique of marriage, parenting, values, pretense, and false veneers.
The New Village Arts production avoids most of the subtlety. The design work, in particular, bombards the audience with in-case-you-don’t-get-it explanations. This is an Artistic Concept writ large. The set’s all black and white stripes and geometric designs with empty frames on the wall. The costumes, also black and white stripes and geometric designs, look like they sprang from the set.
Alan’s cell phone rings louder and louder. That it rings at all is irritating enough. It doesn’t need the helping fist of overkill.
During major combat, the lighting turns snot green, background sounds rise — and the rampage gets cartooned. Instead of real people breaking down, with devastating verbal abuse, the Novaks and Raleighs become manipulated puppets in a funhouse farce.
Needless to say, the technical shenanigans detract from otherwise capable performances and the primeval forces they should unleash.
Playing through November 13