Aston Rep’s “God of Carnage” reveals the ugly depths of the modern American soul

Photo by Paul Goyette

It often seems to me these days that people have by and large lost the language of civil discourse; maybe they have even lost the desire for it. All you have to do is to watch any video of any pundit on any news show and you will likely be hit in the face with the type of invective that, only a few years ago, would have seemed utterly inappropriate to say in public. It would be easy enough to try to place blame for this phenomenon, but the reality is that we are all a part of it. No matter which side of the political spectrum people fall on, many of us seem to have completely given up on the possibility of actually talking about tough matters with people on the other side. And that is, to be honest, justified by the habits of modern Americans, who too often leap at any opportunity to paint those who disagree with them as “crazy right-wingers” or “lunatic lefties” and don’t even bother trying to see things from the other side.

This sheer lack of kindness and tact forms the underlying problem in Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, now playing at Edge Off Broadway in an Aston Rep Theatre Company production directed by Robert Tobin and Derek Bertelsen. Two couples meet for what they expect to be a calm, reasonable discussion about an altercation between their young boys that left one injured (or, in the incendiary phrasing of his mother, “disfigured”). They hope for a peaceful evening because they all agree, basically, about the particulars of the event. The father of the aggressor even describes his own son, who hit the other boy with a stick and broke some of his teeth, as a hooligan. The parents of the injured boy (at whose home this conversation takes place) even bring out espresso and cake for their “guests”—all so civilized.

But this, as I said, is not a civilized era. It is an era in which our politicians, who used to try to show some degree of verbal constraint, now feel comfortable slinging all manner of vile epithets at each other. It’s difficult to say whether they are reflections of us or we of them, but these days it feels as if everyone is walking around with a hair-trigger, almost eager (or maybe actually eager) to get into an argument if someone disagrees with them.

In this context, it is no surprise at all that this meeting never feels comfortable and, in fact, eventually devolves into chaos. Though the couples begin by honoring decorum and expected niceties, that kind of equilibrium is just not the default state of people these days. It does not take long before ugliness erupts and overwhelms the evening.

Though you’d expect that the ugliness will pit one couple against the other—and to some extent it does—the whole thing reveals gigantic schisms within the couples. It’s no wonder. Alan (acerbically played by Mark Tacderas) is a workaholic lawyer who can’t even manage to take a few minutes out of his day to discuss a serious fight his son has had. His cell phone goes off every few minutes (with a work disaster having to do with an evil pharmaceutical company he is, naturally, representing), and of course he loudly takes each and every call while the others, including his embarrassed wife Annette (Maggie Antonijevic), sit and wait him out in silence.

Annette, too, it becomes clear, is not a good person. In fact, as she gets more and more drunk (the coffee gives way to bourbon halfway through the evening), it becomes clear that in her own way she is just as self-centered as her husband. About the only thing truly commendable about her is the fact that she has not thrown him out on his rear end long before now.

As it turns out, only the victim’s mother Veronica (Erin Kathleen O’Brien) comes out of this “carnage” looking even remotely like a good, caring person. Yes, she does have her ugly moments, but she is the sole parent there who maintains a focus on solving a problem and never reveals a dark underside while doing it. Her husband Michael (Mike Newquist) slowly reveals himself to be an overgrown bully—both men are also extremely sexist—who enjoys wallowing in the muck. (Newquist really digs into this role; his Michael is vile, but he somehow seems more honest after his detestable beliefs are aired than he was before.)

One thing that is clear from this evening is that neither of the two boys has ever really stood a chance to grow up as a thoughtful, caring man…not with these role models. And the more that the adults here act like uncontrollable children, the more we can see the devolution of our culture within their characters. This is not who we ought to be, but too often it is who we are.

God of Carnage is playing from now until December 12. Tickets are available here. Its running time is 75 minutes.

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