God of Carnage is funny. The K-State Theater presentation of the play, directed by Jerry Jay Cranford, is a mix of farce and black comedy, so it is sweet and tangy as well as true, a little scary, and guaranteed to provoke more chuckles than dark thoughts.
This is a four-actor play all in one scene, set on the thrust stage in Chapman, nee Nichols, Theater. Kathy Voecks has given us a terrific urban living room, pretentious middle class, and visually unified, with a large oil painting on the back wall and a couple of coffee table books. Briana Koczan has dressed the two women down a little—Ronnie is wearing a pants suit—and the men up.
The two couples are not meeting to socialize, or at least not just to socialize. The 11-year-old son of Alan and Annette Raleigh (Clay Massingill and Dani Golway) has clobbered the son of Michael and Veronica Novack (Mark Young and Amanda Garvey) with a bamboo cudgel, knocking two of his teeth out. Apparently young Novack didn’t want young Raleigh to join his “gang.”
Now the adults get together to decide how to make sure the kids learn from their mistakes. This almost immediately becomes a surrender negotiation—who will go to whose house to inquire or beg forgiveness in what way.
Alan announces it a mistake to involve the men in this discussion. For one thing, males are not so evolved as women. For another, the discussion distracts him from the series of cell phone calls he is getting about corporate reaction to a public relations problem. It is a mark of how much Cranford wants the play to move quickly that Alan hardly pauses to hear before he is spitting out message massage instructions to his caller.
Michael gets some calls, too. His aged mother is seeing a doctor and keeps calling with updates and to ask advice. Knowing that Alan represents a pharmaceutical company, he orders his mother not to accept one of their products as a medication. He complains that his mother is wearing him out.
Something, perhaps worry over the purpose of the visit, has gotten to Annette’s stomach, which erupts in the most convincing stage vomiting I’ve ever seen—and yet it is funny, really funny. Two-faced Veronica then joins her husband in complaining about their visitors while Annette is off getting cleaned up and Alan is yammering on the cell.
The action doesn’t so much build in this French play, written by Yasmina Reza (and translated and adapted, perhaps by Christopher Hampton), as it does ebb and flow. Alliances are similarly fluid, so that sometimes the men are in agreement, sometimes the women, sometimes the original couples.
This form is what makes the play different from other decline and fall stories. But at the heart of it is Alan’s commentary about the applicability of something he learned on a recent visit to the Congo, where boys start their gun-notching early on.
There is something about us that is animal, We restrain it and add a veneer of civility, getting together to discuss how one eleven-year-old boy can apologize to another one for having popped him with a stick. But underneath there is something there that is not pretentious, not refined, something we feel has to be restrained.
The restraints start to fail about the time Michael offers Alan some dark rum. All four of the characters are drinking before too very long—though the women manage to keep the men from lighting up cigars. Apparently the rum is potent. The cell phone is annoying. And there is a bowl of tulips standing on the table behind the sofa. Near chaos ensues.
And pretty funny chaos it is, too. The actors manage the broadening tone pretty well. Once Annette has had a couple of drinks, Golway’s notion of her personality becomes most vivid. And things go downhill like a mining train with failed brakes.
God of Carnage runs through February 16, and Chapman is one of the most attractive places to see a play I know of. “Woof Woof” reminded me of a fictitious musical review in a P.G. Wodehouse story, and that may suggest how funny the Reza play is.