by Hugh Hunter
“God of Carnage” (2009), the Tony award-winning comedy by French playwright Yasmina Reza, is an exercise in entertaining voyeurism that is currently running at Old Academy Players in East Falls.
“Carnage” was recently made into a movie by Roman Polanski, but it works better in a small theatrical venue like Old Academy, where director Charlotte Higgins recreates the confining, almost claustrophobic ambiance of Veronica and Michael’s living room.
This upscale couple live in a gentrified section of Brooklyn. At their home they hold an uneasy meeting with another couple, Annette and Alan. The occasion? Their two 11-year-old boys got into a fight where Benjamin (Annette and Alan’s son) struck Henry with a stick, knocking out two incisors.
The parents want to patch things up. Believing themselves to be the better class of folks, they trip over each other in an effort to be civil. But slowly, and in a variety of comical ways, all order breaks down. As the rum flows, peace is only restored when these people become too exhausted and alcohol-fueled to fight any more.
Early on, Veronica holds sway. She is writing a book about the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. She admires the paintings of Oskar Kokoscha, the Austrian artist driven into exile by the Nazis. For her, the boys’ fight is just the sort of barbarity she wants to stomp out of existence.
Alan plays counterpoint to Veronica’s angst. All night long he interrupts her high-minded proceedings to field cell phone calls from a culpable pharmaceutical firm anxious to duck a law suit. Truth and reconciliation is just a game to this high-flying lawyer.
In “Carnage” I do not recall a single line you would call witty. The humor lies in the situation, the emergence of hidden resentments and the collision of half-baked ideas. You do not so much laugh out loud as you eavesdrop on a family squabble.
In this production the male characters Michael (Jim Golden) and Alan (Leigh Jacobs) are curiously understated. Women do the heavy lifting. Veronica (Michelle Scutti) is nicely animated and fluttery. Later on Annette (Heather Ferrel) has a gloriously comical coming out and struts her stuff all over the stage.
Is there a message here? Not really. Alan gives us the phrase “God of Carnage.” To him, bestiality underlies all we do.
Old Academy Players is located at 3540-44 Indian Queen Lane. “God of Carnage” will run through Nov. 24. Reservations available at 215-843-1109.