Two 11-year-olds, Benjamin and Henry, were playing one November day at Cobble Hill Park in Brooklyn, N.Y. Benjamin picked up a stick and hit Henry, breaking two teeth. Now, Henry’s parents, Veronica and Michael, have invited Benjamin’s parents, Alan and Annette, to their home so that the two families can get to the bottom of the boys’ dispute.
We learn all this in the first minute of Yasmina Reza’s The God of Carnage, which makes its Nevada debut at Brüka Theatre this month. Reza’s play, under the direction of Tony DeGeiso, is a wickedly dark comedy that tells the story of how that one little stick broke a lot more than just poor Henry’s teeth.
Veronica (Mary Bennett) is an Africaphile and writer working on a book about “the tragedy in Darfur.” Her husband, Michael (Gary Cremeans), is a rough-around-the-edges working man who owns a store that sells “household goods”—frying pans, toilet fittings and the like. Their home bespeaks a certain liberalism, with its piles of art books and vase of fresh tulips purchased from “the Korean market down the end.”
Veronica, or “Ronnie,” and Michael welcome Alan and Annette into their home, serve them espresso and Ronnie’s special apple-and-pear clafouti, and, using what Ronnie calls “the art of coexistence,” initiate a dialogue about what happened at the park.
Meanwhile, Alan (Bradford Ka’ai’ai) and Annette (Kristin Moffitt) couldn’t be more different in their tailored suits—Alan’s a corporate attorney with a cell phone fetish, and prim, proper Annette is “in wealth management.”
All this is just the backdrop for what’s bubbling under the surface. It seems that when Benjamin wielded that stick, he also cracked the shiny veneers of both marriages and the expected niceties of polite adults meeting over coffee. As Veronica continues probing Alan and Annette about how they intend to discipline their son, the cracks grow and grow, exposing the ugliness within—ugly truths about what happens in a marriage behind closed doors, ugly lies told by attorneys and corporations, and the ugly ways in which adults handle their stress.
Each family’s vigorous defense of their son reveals much about what may have led to the events at Cobble Hill Park. It turns out that neither the two boys involved nor any of their parents can play well with others. At least Benjamin and Henry have the excuse of only being 11. As the discussion gets dirtier and dirtier—literally, about halfway through the 90-minute show—jackets come off, names are called, espresso is traded for rum, alliances shift, and nothing is held back as the four adults begin to reveal what they really think of each other. They’ve opened a can of worms, and now those worms are everywhere and impossible to put back.
But the beauty of the show is all in the subtext. It’s never really about what’s being said, but how. Each character is, by turns, both lovable and completely abhorrent. While each actor’s performance is uniquely wonderful, I was struck particularly by Moffitt’s genius with facial expressions. That woman can say a thousand words by just furrowing her brow. Throughout the story, the looks exchanged, the body language, the tones of voice—they say everything we need to know about what Benjamin and Henry come home to each night.
But if you’re looking for satisfactory resolutions, a tidy red bow wrapping everything up, you won’t find that here. The God of Carnage is too much like real life for that.