Two Tony Award-winning plays by notable French playwright Yasmina Reza are on stage in Boston through February 5. God of Carnage, a recent Broadway hit also released this month as a major motion picture, is sending caustic barbs sailing through the Huntington’s BU Theatre, while ART, a more introspective yet still at times ferocious play, is holding court on the New Rep’s main stage at the Arsenal Center for the Arts inWatertown.
Both take an unromantic look at relationships and humanity. Carnage centers on two upscale urban couples whose thin layers of civility disintegrate into childish brutality over the course of an evening of alcohol-fueled confrontation, while ART probes the hurtful and dysfunctional co-dependence of three long-time male friends. Both are, at times, bitingly funny. Yet neither is completely satisfying as a work of theater.
GOD OF CARNAGE
Written by Yasmina Reza; translated by Christopher Hampton; directed by Daniel Goldstein; scenic design, Dane Laffrey; costume design, Charles Schoonmaker; lighting design, Tyler Micoleau; sound design, Brett R. Jarvis
Cast in order of appearance:
Veronica Novak, JohAnna Day; Alan Raleigh, Brooks Ashmanskas; Michael Novak, Stephen Bogardus; Annette Raleigh, Christy Pusz
Now through February 5, Huntington Theatre Company, BU Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston. Tickets available at the Box Office, by calling 617-266-0800, or online at www.huntingtontheatre.org.
There’s no disputing that God of Carnage, a 2010 Tony Award winner that was a box office bonanza when original cast members Marcia Gay Harden, James Gandolfini, Hope Davis and Jeff Daniels starred and sparred, serves up many wicked laughs – the kind of nervous, “I can’t believe they said that” laughs that touch some deeply primal human core normally buried beneath good manners and polite breeding. Yet, for all its speeches about anthropology, nature vs. nurture, responsibility, and the power of our basest human instincts, God of Carnage is a very thin play. Once the point is made that we are all animals under the skin, not much else is explored.
Couples Veronica and Michael Novak (Johanna Day and Stephen Bogardus) and Alan and Annette Raleigh (Brooks Ashmanskas and Christy Pusz) come together - at first cordially - to discuss a resolution to a schoolyard brawl between their sons Henry and Benjamin. Soon polite but superficial repartee disintegrates into blame, name-calling, and even physical attacks that the couples experience as simultaneously shocking and cathartic. Apparently we all just need to let loose once in a while and let the Neanderthal inside run free. Throughout the course of the evening, the husbands and wives alternately bond with and take sides against each other depending upon the issue at hand. In the end, no one’s the better or wiser. They’ll just continue to slog along the best they can, hopefully without inflicting too much damage on their children in the process.
In the early going, the Huntington quartet seems uncomfortable with their characters, awkwardly forcing the social pleasantries and missing the beats in the dialog. Ashmanskas, especially, gives his incessant phone conversations an oddly broad delivery as if he’s orating to the audience instead of orchestrating highly sensitive damage control for a troubled pharmaceutical client. However, as the play turns less civil and the fur begins to fly, the cast settles into a rhythm and their individual personalities take shape.