Pittsburgh Public Theater offers its third production of a play by Yasmina Reza, having presented Art last year and Life X 3 in 2007. This one is God of Carnage which certainly resembles those other two, concerning affluent, articulate people trying to be civilized while confronting issues and feelings which surface surprisingly and unexpectedly. As before, in edgy satire, Reza sends up and makes funny how these people end up doing and saying irrational things, taking themselves too seriously.
The superb cast vibrates with believable energy and personality, especially well-paced by director Ted Pappas.
Unlike those previous plays, these characters don’t know each other at the outset but get to know themselves in ways which they could not have anticipated. Anger and accusations surface and spill. This is not like Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, likewise fueled by too much alcohol, because, as we stand outside, we see the foolishness of such people. They’re not really in deep pain, even if they think they are. Perhaps Reza wants to make us think we are superior, when, of course, we are not, even if we may have less sophisticated lifestyles.
Alan and Annette Raleigh have been invited into the home of Michael and Veronica Novak. The couples are concerned parents of young boys who have just had a violent after-school fight and the adults want to work things out. But, as conversations develop into arguments, producing accusations within as well as between the couples, tempers get out of hand, making it clear that, even as boys will be boys, men are still that aggressive within their well-tailored clothes and the women, equal in significant careers, are equally prone to aggression.
Reza makes good points about people like Alan and Veronica. He has an almost umbilical connection to his cell-phone, tying him to his high-powered position as a corporate lawyer and is one of those people who can’t help emphasizing his significance by making sure that people nearby overhear his importance. He also represents a pharmaceutical company which is casual about dangerous side-effects in its products. Veronica is, on the other hand, never casual about what can happen to the lives of innocent people. She is deeply committed to activities against genocide and other violence, yet becomes clearly violent herself when the issues get too close to home and her commitments there are shaken.
David Whalen and Deirdre Madigan play those roles to the hilt perceptively keeping both characters superbly, delightfully reasonable, unreasonable, predictable and unpredictable. As their mates, Annette and Michael, Susan Angelo and Ted Koch bring equal believability to all their permutations.
Pappas finds clever ways to subtly point up Alan’s self-involvement when away from the phone, yet, regarding that phone, something doesn’t work right. I don’t know if it’s in the script or if it’s a Pappas invention but every time that Alan picks up his communication device he starts talking immediately without any indication of having heard anyone on the other end. He never appears to be listening to anything being said to him. Sure, that may be a point about his character, but the way it’s done seems surreal and out of place in what otherwise looks like real people going haywire. Also Pappas’ costume design for Annette looks too tacky for such an affluent woman and it says nothing meaningful about her.
Given the main premise and theme, developed about as far as it can go, the 75 minute running time seems a little longer than necessary. And, several days after experiencing this, it seemed more clever and funny at the time than it does now.
God of Carnage continues through June 26 at Pittsburgh Public Theater, downtown. 412/ 316.1600 or ppt.org.