“God of Carnage,” part of Piccolo Spoleto's Stelle di Domani series, depicts two sets of parents in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill neighborhood meeting to discuss the aftermath of their school-aged sons' gruesome fight.
Fortunately, the youthful four-person cast, all students at the College of Charleston, exhibits enough talent to avert any comparison to kids “playing house.”
The actors' raw displays of emotion faithfully enliven Yasmina Reza's play, which premiered on Broadway in 2009 to positive reviews and earned three Tony Awards, including Best Play.
Reza, who originally wrote the text in French, smartly employs dark humor to demonstrate the parents' vitriol for each other. She argues that violence is part of the natural human state, one that manifests without regard for age. As Veronica Novak, played by the surprisingly mature Margaret Nyland, says, “Violence — that is our business.”
Veronica and her husband Michael invite Annette and Alan Raleigh to their apartment after the Raleighs' son Benjamin struck Henry Novak with a stick and knocked out two of his teeth. The meeting, during which the parents intend to find a resolution, becomes a clash of personalities. The parents come to view their children's actions are a reflection of themselves and grow increasingly judgmental and defensive.
Veronica and Annette, played by Diana Biffl, are the contemporary upper-middle-class heirs of Edith Wharton's stifled New York women. Verbal assaults strain the group dynamic and eventually lead to a confrontation between spouses.
Biffl's Annette stews all night long, only to erupt at the play's culmination as alcohol fuels the outpouring of her character's misgivings. The actress capably handles this challenge. Annette is Reza's least defined character, and Biffl finds opportunity in sporadic short sentences.
Nyland sincerely embodies the neurotic Veronica. Early on in the performance, the actress tripped over a child's toy on her way from the couch to a side table, and she impressively cast doubt over whether the vented frustration belonged to her or her character.
Biffl and Nyland's male counterparts, Peter Spearman and Christian Persico, add depth to the performance. Spearman's Michael Novak and Persico's Alan Raleigh are potent Cobble Hill opposites, each confident in his respective morality and affluence.
Ryan Gunning, doubling as director and set designer, contributes to this effect. An understated couch and faded carpet juxtapose the Novaks' high-minded coffee table books and modern art on the back wall. McKenna DuBose's costume design positions the Raleighs' conspicuous wealth against the Novaks' sartorial modesty. Yet Veronica's attire is significantly more manicured than that of Michael, who displays a casual disinterest in appearance.
At 90 minutes with no intermission, “God of Carnage” runs at a brisk pace, and all four actors deserve credit for the productions' consistent pacing. This is in keeping with the spirit of Reza's text. It would not make sense to go for the jugular at a crawl.
Zach Marschall is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.