When civility dissolves into chaos in the riotous ‘God of Carnage’ at Goodman Theatre

The claws come out in Goodman Theatre’s production of Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage.”

The last Yasmina Reza play I saw I absolutely hated. So, when all my New York friends were flipping out over her latest play, God of Carnage, which opened on Broadway and won the 2009 Tony for Best Play, I took it with a grain of salt. After all, everyone also liked Art when it opened on Broadway in 1998, so perhaps my sensibilities simply didn’t mesh with Reza’s style?

That said, I was still very excited when Goodman announced they would be premiering this farcical comedy in Chicago, directed by Rick Snyder. I wanted to see what all the hub-bub was about.

So: last night I saw it. The verdict? Read on …

Carnage involves two couples as they try to sort out the blame and course of action for a physical altercation on the school playground between their two boys. Veronica (Mary Beth Fisher) has called this meeting with her reluctant husband, Micheal (Keith Kupferer), as she believes thier boy, who lost two teeth in the incident, was the victim, and that Annette (Beth Lacke) and Alan (David Pasquesi) must help their boy take accountability for his actions. While the discussion begins civil, the slow chips at each other’s parenting skills and personal character eventually takes their toll, and the entire afternoon dissolves into full-out drunken mayhem, complete with swearing, hitting, throwing, a (possibly) dead hamster and projectile vomiting.

Ok, so I loved it. The premise is a little ridiculous (I find it hard to believe that Annette and Alan would stick around for such underhanded attacks from the uptight Veronica), but the point Reza seems to be making overcomes this suspension of disbelief. I think what she’s saying is that deep down, we’re all savages capable of cruel, hateful acts. When our character is attacked, our alliances with each other quickly wear away, and it’s every man for himself. As adults, we’re not much different then a group of bullies on a playground — in fact, we’re crueler because over time we’ve come to learn the subtle art of passive-aggressiveness.

A stick in the face doesn’t look so bad by comparison.

At the end of the 70 minute one act, the only one who maintains any element of composure is smarmy corporate lawyer Alan, and that’s only because he already owns his savageness at the start of the play — there’s no artifice with him. While he’s an asshole, he’s consistent, and there’s something to be said for that.

Also: it’s superfun to see superior, well-to-do people lose their sh*t (and their lunch) onstage. And this cast, under Snyder’s direction, knows just how to pace themselves so the chaos slowly simmers to the boiling point. While Fisher, looking and acting a bit like Hillary Clinton at the top of the show, might be a little old for the role, she’s still fabulous as she comes unthreaded. And Lacke, who gives the most nuanced performance of the evening, wins the prize for most unexpected bodily function.

My only major quibble is the setting. Nothing about the cavernous, pristine space suggests that the liberal-to-a-fault, art-loving Veronica and/or regular, working-man Michael would actually live there. An odd choice by scenic designer Takeshi Kata.

“God of Carnage” plays through April 17 at Goodman Theatre.
More info here >

2 thoughts on “When civility dissolves into chaos in the riotous ‘God of Carnage’ at Goodman Theatre

  1. The last Yasmina Reza play I saw I absolutely hated – and it was “God of Carnage” on Broadway. One of the most unpleasant plays I’ve ever had the displeasure of sitting through – but the projectile vomiting was impressive.

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