God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza at the Purple Rose, or anywhere really, is a must-see. In this ninety-minute jewel for four actors, Reza dissects with the most excruciating specificity–like a doctor doing laser surgery–the attitudes and assumptions that form the operating system of the bourgeoisie, or, as they’re known these days, the liberal elite. Even if you’ve seen this play in one of its earlier versions, seeing it in the Trump era adds another layer of meaning.
The brilliant paradox that forms the premise of God of Carnage says it all. The curtain opens on two sets of Brooklyn parents drafting a document about a playground fight between their two children. They smugly congratulate themselves for being so reasonable, so highly evolved, that they are able to accomplish this task in a friendly way over coffee and cake instead of in a lawyer’s office. Why this document is necessary is never exactly explained, but it seems to have something to do with preventing them from suing each other in the future. But, you might ask, if they’re so reasonable and highly evolved, why do they think they need such a document in the first place? The adults will soon be having a playground fight of their own.
If you’re a regular theatergoer, in some people’s eyes you’re ipso facto a member of the liberal elite. Reza writes her plays for us regulars: She wants us to look at these four characters in horror and wonder if we’re one of them. They each display their horribleness in a different way, but they also each reveal nuggets of honesty worthy of respect. Here the pretentious, artier-than-thou Veronica is played by Michelle Mountain; Paul Stroili plays her plainspoken husband Michael, who flat-out admits that he loathes being a parent; Kate Thomsen plays the placating Annette, whose body betrays her bottomless anxiety; Rusty Mewha plays Alan, her snake of a husband who eventually and surprisingly shows a ragged vestige of humanity.
It would seem destiny for Purple Rose to produce this play, since the Rose’s patron saint, Jeff Daniels, created the role of Alan on Broadway, but artistic director Guy Sanville has been avoiding it. A few years ago, when the now-defunct Performance Network mounted a good production of it, Sanville told me that after seeing Daniels do it on Broadway, he couldn’t imagine any other version coming close. He didn’t direct this production–resident artist Lauren Knox did.
God of Carnage has spread around the world like a brushfire since its first performance in Zurich in 2008. Wikipedia lists productions in Santiago, Dubai, Bucharest, Sydney, Dublin, and more. Critics like to debate whether Reza has anything to say or whether she is just a good stylist. I’m saying the former.
God of Carnage runs through December 16.