Stagecrafters’s ‘Carnage’ sheds light with dark humor

by Hugh Hunter
Posted 2/15/24

Now running at Stagecrafters, the dark humor of  “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza amuses you for 90 minutes, then you finally succumb to full-body laughter.

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Stagecrafters’s ‘Carnage’ sheds light with dark humor


Now running at Stagecrafters, the dark humor of  “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza amuses you for 90 minutes, then you finally succumb to full-body laughter. A riotous send-up of upper-middle-class mores, “Carnage” also insinuates that its characters represent an irredeemable human nature.

Two married couples meet to resolve a fight between their sons. Henry refused to let Ben join his gang. So Ben hit him with a stick and broke two incisor teeth. Veronica, the mother of victim Henry, brings all parents together for a peace meeting. She rues: “How many parents standing up for their children become infantile themselves!”

Then the parents turn against each other. Married couples fight between themselves. Odd alliances develop between the men and the women, only to dissolve as quickly as they form. With voyeuristic absorption, you watch the peacemaker meeting disintegrate into an alcohol haze.

Reza's play was originally set in Paris. We now meet these couples in Brooklyn. A huge lattice window frame is suspended from the stage rafters at a slant, (set design, Patricia Masarachia). It suggests we are in an apartment high above the teeming multitude --- perhaps seeking distance from it, comparable to a castle moat.

Director Jane Toczek puts together a cast of four actors who plunge into the souls of their characters. Claire Golden Drake pours herself into the role of Veronica Novak. She speaks with a refined, vaguely English accent, a writer and a fine arts enthusiast.

In her passion for justice, Veronica blends the children's fight with her concern about genocide in Darfur.  At one point she cries out, “I am standing up for civilization.”  Of the four parents, only Veronica is big enough to invite your sympathy. Even so, when it comes to Henry's teeth, Veronica's need to shame the other parent sneaks in.

Annette Raleigh, the other mother, is only concerned about standing up for her son. Laura Christman revels in a role full of physical humor. Struggling with an upset stomach, Annette vomits over Veronica's coffee table with its African art books. (Kudos to Joe Herman for his pneumatics/hydraulics expertise).

Eric Crist plays Michael, a comically disengaged father. He is elated to learn his son Henry is a gang leader. “I was a gang leader myself!” But macho Michael is afraid of mice. His mistreatment of “Nibbles,” the family hamster, leads to hilarious arguments about caring and justice.

Matt Rydzewski plays the other father, Alan Raleigh. With wry humor, he calls his son Ben a “savage” and takes no interest in this peacemaking get-together. He only believes in "the God of Carnage.” For him, warring Congo tribes sum up human nature everywhere ---  so backwater they call their Western grenade launchers "thump-guns".

Alan is a lawyer. He continually answers desperate cell phone calls about how to handle a lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company. His cynical advice to a jittery colleague builds up a satirical portrait of a game-player lawyer with no interest in justice.

Alan answers his phone about 15 times; these calls serve another purpose: They break up the dramatic action into a rapid sequence of short segments. Something is always happening. It is a more seamless version of the same dramaturgical approach Reza took in “Art” where she broke up the play into a multiplicity of small sections.

Yasmina Reza 

Reza was born in France. Her father was a Russian, Bukharan Jew once imprisoned in a Nazi extermination camp, and her mother was a Jewish-Hungarian violinist from Budapest. You suspect the viciousness of her parent's emigre background informs the underlying bitterness of Reza's satire.

Reza was famous in Europe and London by the 1980s, but our theater was slow in coming to know her work. Using the translations of Christopher Hampton, her breakout hit in America was “Art” which won the Tony in 1998. “God of Carnage” followed, winning the Tony in 2009.

Reza uses dark humor to deal with big issues. In “Carnage,” the genocide in Western Darfur is always in the background. Like Veronica, you are sure Reza is appalled. But like Alan, she seems to argue that the difference between “civilization” and tribalism is paper thin, that we all share in the same, miserable human nature and how that low nature gets expressed is merely situational.

Some elements of Reza's characters do not make sense. It is absurd that Veronica would be hooked up to a self-described “Neanderthal” like Michael. It is equally implausible that a greasy lawyer like Alan would take some interest in the Hague trial he casually mentions. 

But you do not think about it because the play's mounting absurdity engrosses you. And on opening night the laughter at the finale was not like the nervous, audience titter you hear at the usual sitcom shows. It was explosive.

Stagecrafters is located at 8130 Germantown Ave. “God of Carnage” will run through Feb 25. Tickets available at 215-247-8881, or online at