Stages

Review: AstonRep’s Dark Comedy, God of Carnage, Rips Up the Veneer of Civilization

Left to right, Mark Tacderas, Mike Newquist, Maggie Antonijevic and Erin Kathleen O’Brien. Photo by Paul Boyette.

Two couples get together to discuss a playground dispute in which the son of one attacked the son of another. They’re there to have a civilized discussion. What could possibly go wrong?

You might think that this would turn into an argument in which the mom and dad of the kid who lost two teeth would demand restitution and the mom and dad of the attacker kid would refuse. This could end with shouting and slammed doors. However, there’s more than that lurking behind the shouting in God of Carnage, the Yazmina Reza play now being smartly staged by AstonRep Theatre.  The translation is by Christopher Hampton. Derek Bertelsen and Robert Tobin are co-directors.

Michael and Veronica (Mike Newquist and Erin Kathleen O’Brien) are parents of Henry, whose parents consider him mutilated with the loss of two teeth. They have invited Benjamin’s parents, Annette and Alan (Maggie Antonijevic and Mark Tacderas), to their home to discuss the playground contretemps. Coffee and dessert are served, and later, when needed, the hard stuff comes out. (In this case, 20-year-old rum.)

Alan, an attorney, interrupts the conversation by repeatedly answering his mobile phone. It seems his firm’s pharma client has a problem and Alan’s counsel is essential to keep the scandal under control. This responsibility does not placate his wife, who eventually becomes the deux ex machina and solves the phone problem.

Left to right, Newquist, O’Brien, Tacderas and Antonijevic. Photo by Paul Boyette.

Michael adds another story element; although he declares himself a “fucking Neanderthal,”  he admits he sent his children’s hamster into street exile for making too much noise. (Michael has a rodent phobia so he had to do it without touching the hamster.) Murder accusations ensue.

Yes, this is a story of two couples fighting over an incident involving their children. But Reza’s witty and topical script turns this into far more than parental squabbling. Eventually, we have every possible variation of conflict. Men vs. women, discussions of war and genocide, sexism, homophobia, and questions of why anyone would even have children. “My son’s a savage,” Alan admits. Later Michael says, “Children consume our lives and then destroy them.” By the end, the parents have turned into children.

Jeremiah Barr is scenic and props designer with lighting by  Becca Venable. Robert Tobin is sound designer. Costumes are by Uriel Gomez.

God of Carnage’s 2009 Broadway production won the Tony Award for Best Play; it starred Marcia Gay Harden and James Gandolfini as Veronica and Michael, and Hope Davis and Jeff Daniels as Annette and Alan. Roman Polanski directed a 2011 film adaptation titled Carnage. Reza’s play was written in French and first produced in France, as was her earlier play, Art, about three friends arguing over an all-white painting that one of them has bought.

God of Carnage by AstonRep Theatre Company continues through December 12 at the Edge Off-Broadway Theater, 1131 W. Catalpa Ave. Tickets are $20 for performances Thursday-Sunday. Buy them online or by calling 773-828-9129. Running time is about 80 minutes with no intermission. AstonRep’s Covid protocols are like most other theaters: Proof of vaccination is required for entry and masks must be worn in the theater building.

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