The living room of a no-doubt astronomically expensive Brooklyn house is decorated with modern art and fresh tulips, with a bottle of rare-vintage Antiguan rum on the bar and art books on the coffee table. The smiling house owners welcome another smiling couple into the room. They sit down and start talking about a disturbing incident involving their sons: one couple’s child has been injured, significantly but not life-threateningly, by the the other couple’s child, in a fight.
The conversation is quite polite at first. Then it turns ugly. And then uglier. One of the most breathtaking moments come when Alan, the visiting father, responds to a suggestion by Veronica, the hosting mother, that the two boys get together to talk things over.
“Madam,” he says, addressing Veronica sarcastically, “our son is a savage. To hope for any kind of spontaneous repentance would be fanciful.”
In a way, that’s the essence of Yasmina Reza’s play “God of Carnage,” which the Women’s Theater Company is presenting at the Parsippany Playhouse through March 31 (using Christopher Hampton’s translation from the original French). Except that we don’t really know if the boys are savages: We never meet them. It’s the parents to whom this truth applies.
“God of Carnage” is a kind of modern “Lord of the Flies”; as the conversation grows more heated, and some of that run gets consumed, facades crumble, and we see the characters at their deeply unsettling essence. Not only are the couples at war with each other, but each spouse is at war with the other.
This is not an obscure play. After successful runs in various European cities, it came to Broadway in 2009 and 2010, earning Reza a Tony, and was made into a movie titled “Carnage” — with Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz — in 2011.
Women’s Theater Company executive artistic director Barbara Krajkowski directs this production (with assistance from Patricia Durante). Andrea Prendamano and Brian Parks play the hosting couple, Veronica and Michael Novak; Nancy Kutzer and Scott McGowan play the visiting couple, Annette and Alan Raleigh.
The men form a kind of bond via their shared indifference to parenting and fondly remembered ruffian episodes in their own pasts. Alan, a lawyer, constantly interrupts the conversation to give morally questionable advice to clients over his cell phone. Michael is more of a “regular guy”; he owns a wholesale household-good company and speaks in a thick New York accent.
After Michael calls himself a “neanderthal,” Alan responds: “Aren’t we all?”
Veronica is a writer who is planning to publish a book on “the Darfur tragedy,” and is the character with the strongest sense of morality (as well as a superiority complex that her guests immediately pick up on). Annette, who says she’s in “wealth management” (leading one to wonder if she means she just takes care of the vast piles of money Alan presumably makes), is sweet and bland on the surface; she’s the last of the characters to explode, but when she does, it stings the most.
In her script, after listing the characters, Reza writes: “All in their forties. A living room. No realism. Nothing superfluous.” Krajkowski and the actors seem to have really taken the “Nothing superfluous” directive to heart: This is a taut, thoroughly engaging production, with every gesture the characters make, and every bit of small talk, adding up to create a rich portrait of four not particularly likeable but very real people
The Women’s Theater Company will present “God of Carnage” at the Parsippany Playhouse in Lake Hiawatha through March 31. Visit womenstheater.org.
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