God of Carnage: The Reflective Canvas

"Yasmina Reza's play is witty, biting, ferocious, and unbelievably funny. It's for smart audiences to laugh with their neighbors — just right for a cold winter night in Boston." — Peter DuBois

Sometimes the best comedy comes from a place that is uncomfortably close. As Yasmina Reza dives headfirst into the lives of two families, we see four practical parents. A playground altercation between their two children sets the stage for a levelheaded mediation — or so we think. What starts as a civilized meeting over coffee and clafouti, ends in a barbaric eruption of anxiety and accusations.

Annette and Alan, parents of the alleged culprit, leave neither their outside lives nor their resentment at the door to Michael and Veronica's. Annette, a posh "wealth manager," and Alan, a preoccupied lawyer, want to keep the confrontation short and sweet. Michael, an overworked hardware salesman, and his humanitarian wife, Veronica, instead demand the four compose an extensive peace treaty. Both parties begin by standing behind their own child's actions, but enemy lines quickly muddle, and slinging criticisms turn personal between partners. Allies become enemies and a cluster of pointed assaults, pent-up aggression, and spewing bodily functions leave a literal and metaphorical mess for the audience to mop up.

At first glance, Yasmina Reza's plays seem simple: one set, a handful of characters, one conversation. Her award-winning play Art follows four friends discussing a white canvas, The Unexpected Man illustrates an internal monologue between a pair in a train car, and God of Carnage follows a conversation between two families. On the surface, her stories are spare. However, the meat of the work is within her characters. She populates her stories with extreme characters, surprising in their likeability, that are polar opposites. Leaving the design elements relatively simple, she has created a canvas where her characters can explode.

Like any good satirist, Reza tricks us into laughing. In God of Carnage, Annette gets so exasperated with her husband's incessant interrupting phone calls that she becomes physically ill. Not only is the bile outlandish on multiple fronts, it allows us to laugh at the absurdity to follow. As we find comfort in the laughter, Reza reveals a harsher criticism of ourselves. Annette lashes out, "That cell phone makes mincemeat of our lives!" Unearthing the truth, Reza notes, "My plays have always been described as comedy but I think they're tragedy. They are funny tragedy, but they are tragedy. Maybe it's a new genre." Reza uses farce to accomplish the goal of comedy — getting us to laugh at ourselves. She emphasizes her characters' shadows to paint a portrait as grotesque as it is enthralling.

Seeing four grownups scuffle with the same behavior akin to their childrenis cathartic. John Lahr of The New Yorker points out, "As Freud tells us in 'Civilization and Its Discontents,' we have to repress our infantile aggression in order for civilization to survive. But it's worth paying top dollar to see those feelings acted out." As audience members, we can sit back and point out the flaws in the people being portrayed. However with Reza there is a twist. She hands us a red pen for one hand, but a mirror for the other.

 

— Rebecca Bradshaw

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