I’m not a big fan of reality TV, although I certainly acknowledge the strange fascination many people have with eavesdropping on folks when their guards are down, and especially when emotions are tense. That’s the fundamental appeal of Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, opening the Playhouse’s 2011-2012 season. Two upscale Brooklyn couples come together to consider how to resolve of a playground fight between their sons. Before long (the entire play is just 85 minutes, no intermission) they have slid down the slippery slope to warfare that’s well beyond a dust-up between kids.
Everything about this production is professionally done, including the wonderful cast. Eva Kaminsky and Triney Sandoval are the parents of the injured boy. Her Veronica is unrealistically fair-minded and humorless, while his Michael is good-natured but narrow-minded.
As the bully’s mom and dad, Anthony Marble and Annette Raleigh are also elevated caricatures. Alan is a fast-talking corporate lawyer, addicted to his cell phone; Annette is a mouse who tries to please. But in short order, their masks are stripped away to reveal an unfeeling, self-centered raving lunatic beneath.
Directed by Ed Stern in his final Playhouse season, Carnage has a lot of delicious moments — verbal wit, physical comedy and inter-character strife. Designer Narelle Sissons’ modern, minimal set provides a social context of affluence, and subtle details — a three-panel photo of the Brooklyn Bridge and a chic glass box fireplace — offer symbolic elements suggesting connection, cool reserve and the heat of fury.
There is not fault to be found here: God of Carnage evoked laughter and certainly entertained the audience. But its humor is drawn from crude, demeaning behavior, at the expense of moral character. If you enjoy watching people at their worst, however, this is the show for you.
GOD OF CARNAGE, presented by the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, continues through Oct. 1. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.