SUMMIT, NJ – How long does it take to lose our so-called civilized manners and behavior? When do the masks we wear begin to slip and reveal our true natures?
Yasmina Reza’s provocative play, “God of Carnage,” explores such matters with wit and devastating accusations. The translation from the French by Christopher Hampton makes it all work in a smart New York City setting. Directed by Chase Newhart, the Summit Playhouse production has an excellent ensemble of actors who don’t hesitate to turn on each other.
It seems that Michael and Veronica’s 11-year-old son, Henry, was in a playground fight with Alan and Annette’s son, Benjamin. Benjamin knocked out a couple of Henry’s teeth and the two couples meet to, presumably, smooth over the situation. But as the session moves on in Michael and Veronica’s apartment, tempers become frayed and reason and logic are soon left behind.
Bob Mackasek is Michael, a businessman who deals in appliances and household goods. His wife, Veronica, has recently written a book about Darfur. Alan is a lawyer, while his wife, Annette, says she is in wealth management.
Alan, played by Michael King, can barely drag himself away from his cell phone, as he is constantly talking to the unseen Serge. It’s apparent that whatever is going on in his legal world takes precedence over the immediate problem of the two boys. Claire McKinney-Mulhern as his wife becomes increasingly annoyed and hostile. She finally vomits, which sets off the whole business of physical acting out and ever more accusations.
Mackasek’s Michael is the most down-to-earth of the group, but is blamed by all for taking his daughter’s pet hampster, Nibbles, out of the house and leaving it on the street. Elizabeth Royce as Veronica becomes increasingly undone, telling Annette she’s pretentious and charging one person after another as her own structured life unravels. It turns out none of these people are likeable, nor do any of them like each other.
The play has a lot to say about rocky marriages, resentments and the clash that results from wanting too much. As the evening wears on, we see that the children are the least important to any of them.
Roy Pancirov’s set design smartly defines the comfortable, tasteful home where all this takes place. There are touches of African art and cocktail table books in the living room of white upholstered furniture and deep red walls. Veronica is particularly proud of her tulips, which she had just purchased that day. Costumes by Ann Lowe go through a lot in this play and subtly define the characters. Wendy Roome’s lighting and sound blend in effectively, especially that frequently buzzing cell phone. Later in the play, King as Alan clearly displays what a crutch his phone has become. He literally goes through withdrawal symptoms without it.
Timing is everything in a play of this nature and the sharp performances of all four actors make it click. Newhart has provided just the right balance, refraining from too much coarse humor, while showing the devastating effects of life gone awry. “God of Carnage” continues at The Summit Playhouse at 10 New England Ave., Summit, through March 9. For tickets, call 908-273-2192 or visit SummitPlayhouse.org.