It’s a question people ask when there is a tragedy such as the recent Boston Marathon bombings: How did a seemingly normal kid grow up to become a murderer? Yet seeing Langhorne Players’ first production of the 2013 season, God of Carnage, might give insight. The parents in Yasmina Reza’s play could very well raise monsters.
They, themselves, are savage beasts cloaked in successful and sensitive masks. They see their children as extensions of themselves. When the 11-year-old son of Veronica Novak, played by Tami Feist, has his teeth knocked out by a playmate, she takes it personally.
Feist is pitch perfect in trumpeting Veronica’s pride in her manners, civility and mothering. Veronica is an evolved parent, basking in the “soothing powers of culture.” As a writer, she examines the brutality of Darfur as if to glow in the contrast to herself. She has an ego the size of the continent of the Africa she loves.
As the ringleader of this conference – it’s doubtful the other three would bother to meet if not for her prompting – her main objective is not to gain compensation for the dental expenses or even to soothe her son with an apology. She just needs to be right. The other boy was wrong for attacking her son.
Her husband, Michael, played by James K. Perri, is an everyday man. He sells stuff. He puts a sweater vest and clip-on tie over his khakis in an effort to be cultured. Perri effuses the dichotomy that is Michael. He exhibits hospitality to the couple whose kid knocked his in the mouth. He worries about his mother taking a medicine that might kill her. He fusses over his wife’s ruined books with as much care as the other father’s ruined cell phone. Yet, he exploits his son’s dental pain to throw the family pet out on the street – something he’s longed to do.
When he assumes his wife will fetch the refreshment he proffers their guests, you just know he will pay for it later. Although Veronica insists “Michael always loved pushing a stroller,” it’s clear he had no choice.
The father of the kid wielding a teeth-shattering stick is as disconnected from fathering as he is connected to his job as a high-powered lawyer, shown by constant interruptions via cell phone. Tim Tolen plays Alan Raleigh with aloof ease, who comes to life when introduced to food, drink or a good cigar. So what if his son is a “savage” and his client’s medicine can kill, he’s on his way to the Hague tomorrow and his wife is lovely arm candy.
That trophy wife – her nickname is “Wolf Wolf,” as in “How Much is that Doggie in the Window? Wolf-wolf” for pitty’s sake – is quietly played by Stephanie Smith. Quietly, that is, until all that pain and anger Annette holds in spews across the room. Smith is as magnificent when tightly controlled as she is when her Annette is released.
Once unrestrained, Annette defends her son. She finds her backbone, which is carefully hidden behind a trendy exposed-zippered dress, and tells Veronica to back off dictating the punishment for her son. She disabuses Michael of his smugness by identifying him as a pet killer. No longer able to contain her anger at being left to handle all things “home, school and garden,” Annette cools her rage in alcohol.
As the “civilized” caucus leaves far more carnage in its wake than the fight that provoked it, you can’t help being reminded of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Bad enough that their marriages are toxic, but these folks are raising kids.
Under the direction of DeLarme Landes, Feist, Perri, Tolen and Smith channel Reza’s heavy hand well, never letting the symbolism overwhelm or distill the commotion, resulting in civilized chaos that’s amusing to watch unfold.
— Jodi Thompson