Except for the centerpiece tulips, colors are muted on Church Hill Theatre’s set for the laugh-out-loud profanity of French author Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage.”
The 2009 Tony winner for Best Play, translated into American vernacular by Christopher Hampton, reminds us that you’re on your own regardless of marital status.
A pair of 11-year-olds – Benjamin and Henry, who we never see in this four-hand, four-letter-word dramedy – got into an argument that ends in the latter child losing two incisors as the former clobbers him with a stick. The assailant’s parents are invited by the victims to “discuss the situation.” Veronica, Henry’s mom, makes clafouti (a dessert) for the occasion. Michael, her husband, offers coffee but serves espresso on request. Annette guardedly accepts, but her husband, Alan, an attorney, digs in – literally and figuratively. At the start, both parties are edgily polite. But you sense it can’t last.
Alan tests everyone’s patience by incessantly answering his cell phone to conduct business that takes precedence over the matter at hand. While the decorum dissipates gradually, it’s splattered for good when Annette vomits over and under the coffee table where Veronica’s out-of-print art books are stacked.
J.W. Ruth serves up a deliciously contemptible Alan. (Didn’t he hear the warning to silence all cell phones as we settled into comfy new seats at Church Hill?) Worse, he’s slickly devising a cover-up of a pharmaceutical company’s new drug that’s making people bump into the furniture – including Michael’s landline mom – also unseen. Ruth delivers the title line with Alan’s smug contempt of good manners.
Played with on-his-best-behavior artifice by Christopher Wallace, Michael is a hardware and home-goods wholesaler – think toilet fixtures – who’s a rock until he isn’t. Michael is in way over his head, intellectually and temperamentally, with his wife. She’s writing a book about Darfur during the African nation’s outbreak of genocidal atrocities. Christine Kinlock imbues Veronica with a rage that she struggles to contain to preserve her judgmentally arch notion of civility.
As Annette, whose career is in “wealth management” – her husband’s – Brianna Johnson fidgets nervously while seated on one of two sofas anchoring a spare living-room set designed by director Michael Whitehill before she loses all control – first by not holding it in and then by holding back not at all once rum replaces espresso as the beverage of choice.
Whitehill directs this well-cast civil-to-savage quartet as if they were changing-partners square dancers, switching sides with each virulent shift in allegiance. Think your spouse is on your side? Think again. Not even a child’s pet hamster is spared in this domestic jungle.
‘God of Carnage’
Fridays-Sundays through Nov. 19, opening 8 p.m. Nov. 3, Sunday matinees at 2, Church Hill Theatre, 103 Walnut St., Church Hill. churchhilltheatre.org
Steve Parks is a retired New York arts critic now living in Easton.