By Daniel Skora
The Purple Rose is presenting “God of Carnage”, a show that’s become both a theatrical treasure and an audience favorite. The play, written by Yasmina Reza and translated from the French by Christopher Hampton, tells the story of two sets of parents who meet to resolve a playground altercation involving their sons. Michael (Paul Stroili) and Veronica (Michelle Mountain) are the parents of Henry, their 11-year old son who sustained two busted teeth during the incident. They are hosting Alan (Rusty Mewha) and Annette (Kate Thomsen), parents of Benjamin, who appears to have initiated the scuffle by hitting Henry with a stick for refusing to let him join Henry’s gang. The meeting is meant to clear up any misgivings each may have against the other and access financial responsibility.
The meeting takes place in the upscale Brooklyn apartment of Michael and Veronica. Neither child ever appears in the play. In fact, Reza uses the whole playground incident primarily as a catalyst for instigating the deterioration of civility among all of her characters. The meeting begins politely enough, with each of the four portrayed as reasonable people. Michael is a wholesaler who deals in hardware and home fixtures. His wife Veronica is a writer as well as a proponent of liberal causes, exemplified by the book she’s currently writing about the African tragedy in Darfur. She’s also the instigator of the meeting and a staunch supporter of Benjamin’s actions. Alan is a much-in-demand high-powered lawyer who assists companies in extricating themselves from ruinous financial situations. He spends a great deal of time during the meeting answering calls regarding a pharmaceutical case he is working on. Annette, his wife, is the most passive of the group and finds herself getting wound tighter and tighter as the meeting progresses.
Veronica and Alan become the play’s primary adversaries. Rusty Mewha plays Alan as having the charm and personality of an automaton. With a kind of clipped staccato delivery, Alan throws out comments without any consideration for how what he has to say might be affecting others. In turn, Veronica is all of a smug righteousness until things stop going her way.
“God of Carnage” is short on plot and long on characterization. The play’s several sidebar issues, like the damage to Veronica’s treasured Oskar Kokoschka art book and Michael’s mother’s use of the drug that Alan is working hard to minimize the potential effects of bad publicity, serve mostly to further define the characters and bulk up a play that barely exceeds an hour.
Eventually, all four of the participants are at each other’s throats. What could make for an overly talky play is saved when verbal confrontation takes a more physical turn. Inhibitions get loosened by a choice bottle of dark rum. Frustrations rise to uncontrollable levels. And the two busted teeth begin to seem inconsequential in light of what’s occurred.
By its very nature, all theatre is voyeuristic. “God of Carnage” is especially so, what with people you expect to have it all together coming unglued before your very eyes. That they’re educated and prosperous only makes their emotional collapse that much more delicious. If you’ve encountered the show before, the Purple Rose offers its own unique take on what’s already become a minor classic. If you haven’t, you will find this production an entertaining treat.
“God of Carnage” is directed by Lauren Knox. The design for the simple yet stylish living room of Michael and Veronica’s apartment is by Bartley H. Bauer. Costume design is by Shelby Newport, lighting by Dana L. White, and sound by Tom Whalen. Property design is by Danna Segrest, and stage manager for this production is Angie Kane Ferrante.
“God of Carnage” runs through December 16th. Ticket reservations may be made by calling the Purple Rose box office at 1.734.433.7673 or going online at www.purplerosetheatre.org. The theatre is located at 137 Park Street in Chelsea. Exit at 159 if you’re coming west on I-94.