Quarrelsome parents make ‘Carnage’ difficult, fun

by David Dixon

Courtesy of Henry DiRocco

Who hasn’t met parents who don’t quite act their age? Be prepared to spend time with some prime examples of immature elders in The Old Globe’s production of the Tony award-winning dark comedy, “God of  carnage.”The story picks up after 11-year-old Henry is injured by another student named Benjamin. Following the incident, the children’s parents meet in Henry’s Brooklyn home to resolve the conflict. Right from the start, things become awkward as Benjamin’s mother Veronica Novak (Erika Rolfsrud), and father Michael Novak (Lucas Caleb Rooney), appear uptight to both the audience and Henry’s parents, Annette Raleigh (Caitlin  Muelder) and Alan Raleigh (T. Ryder Smith). The four soon transition to intensely comedic verbal arguments not only about their sons, but other topics including violence, society and even a pet hamster.

Two key ingredients make this play work: the lead acting and the funny, though eerily realistic screenplay. Under Richard Seer’s breezy direction in the intimate Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, these elements overflow on stage.

None of the characters are sympathetic, nor do they learn any valuable lessons. But who really cares about development when the characters are perfectly portrayed by such talented performers?

Rolfsrud nails the rigid personality of Veronica, a woman who wants to be in control of those around her. Her change from a pompous, self-righteous, “dogooder,” to an absolute nutcase is freakishly gratifying.

Rooney gets dry laughs in his portrayal of Michael; metamorphosing from a sympathetic everyman into an ogre. Michael was vicious as a kid, and at his angriest, he acts as though he would love to return to his physically brutal roots.

As the mousy Annette, Muelder gets quite a few of the memorable sight gags of the show. There were at least two instances when the audience applaued Muelder for her actions, since she often leads to big twists in the plot.

Smith portrays Alan as a proudly cynical man who has no regrets in acting like a total pain in the tuchus. Unlike the other adults who behave worse as the night goes on, Alan has already accepted he is a selfish individual who puts himself and his career as a lawyer first.

Because there is no one to like, it’s easy to ask how “God of Carnage” is so unapologetically entertaining. The reality is quite simple, as it resides in Yasmina Reza’s writing, which was translated from French to English by Christopher Hampton. Reza makes it clear these New Yorkers are so flawed, laughing at their expense is not a crime.

The dialogue is very true to life, full of awkward pauses and interruptions.

If anything in “God of Carnage” is relatable, it’s the prose. Witnesses to the madness are in for giggles galore. Like “Richard III” at The Old Globe’s Shakespeare Festival, a lot of amusement is to be had watching such meanies behaving badly.

Tickets and information about “God of Carnage” can be found at theoldglobe.org.