BWW Review: Keegan Theatre's Feisty GOD OF CARNAGE
A child injures another in a playground confrontation. The parents of each meet to discuss.
It's a parenting moment so universal that the familiar premise in Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage" was originally written in French and first presented in London. It was a Tony-winner on Broadway a decade ago in a production with James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden.
And a new production at Keegan Theatre, also from the Christopher Hampton translation, is a worthy endeavor as well.
Scarcely dated after 10 years (except maybe the cell phone model and cut of suit), the uncomfortable meeting of two sets of parents brought together only by the confrontation of their kids still rings true.
The two sides are almost self-congratulatory at first for their sheer civility, sitting down and ironing out a practical solution, with the parents of the perpetrator agreeing to pay for the displaced teeth.
But wait, should there be more? Should there be an apology from the 11-year-old who wielded the stick? Or should the children be left to settle it among themselves without parental supervision? Push a little further, and maybe the seeming aggressor had a good reason to raise a stick.
"How may parents standing up for their children become infantile themselves?" is a line early in the play that seems to play out toward the end. But more surprising is the shockingly recurrent line toward the end that "to my mind, there are wrongs on both sides" that demonstrates how close to the current national fractiousness Reza's play remains -- a place where white nationalist riots can have "very fine people on both sides."
In the play, the kids never do show up and the parents continue to stay (despite the visitors putting on their coats to leave more than a few times). The more they talk, the more they argue, the more the simmering discontents of each household emerges. There are class differences between the two couples and alliances shift along gender lines as well.
If there are fewer overt racial differences between the two couples, it's because it was never been part of the script. In this case, director Shirley Serotsky works with an agreeably diverse cast that seems for its part post-racial despite holding on to their other various shortcomings. These lead to various outbursts, one so surprisingly spectacular it dominates a full third of the action.
It all remains engaging thanks to the strength of the cast, particularly from the women. Lolita Marie is commanding as the hostess who thinks of herself in upholding civilization, in her manner and household. The Keegan's artistic director Susan Marie Rhea turns in a strong performance as well as her high strung guest, a mother involved in financial management who holds so much in, it must inevitably spill out.
Of the men, Vishwas (an actor with just the single name) has a character who wonders why they even have to meet at all; don't kids need to solve their own battles? Isn't it character building? At the same time, he keeps rudely interrupting things by taking calls about some very shady business - clamping down on news that a pharmaceutical he represents has harmful side effects, lest the stock prices be affected.
This is nothing nuanced about this despicable behavior, it's made even more black-and-white when it turns out the host's elderly mother is also taking the questionable drug. As the host, DeJeanette Horne may be the most level-headed of the four; his is the most hands-on of profession, selling hardware items wholesale. And yet he sides eventually with the other guy and goes against his wife (though he never does light any of the cigars he brings out to share).
"God of Carnage" may go on a tad longer than it needs to, but Serotsky keeps things moving and well balanced on stage. It never gets tiresome to watch.
That is thanks in part from artful placement of the characters on the smart set design by Matthew J. Keenan that subtly comments on the fractures in the room, around an off-kilter coffee table with games and puzzles underneath and art catalogs ostentatiously on display atop.
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
"God of Carnage" runs through May 28 at the Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church St NW. Tickets at 202-265-3767 or online.