How many parents standing up for their children become infantile themselves?
— From “God of Carnage”
Henry and Benjamin quarrel at school. Henry goes home with two missing teeth. The next day, their parents meet for espresso, homemade clafouti and, hopefully, an amicable resolution.
Things go awry.
In “God of Carnage,” French playwright Yazmina Reza explores how bourgeois manners can mask inner savagery — and how righteous fury can mask entitled narcissism.
“The ugly side of humanity comes out in the funniest possible way,” said Sami Ginoplos, a master’s candidate in the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, who will direct “God of Carnage” Nov. 16-19 in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre.
“But ‘God of Carnage’ is also asking us, as audience members, to take a closer look at our own communication,” Ginoplos added. “It reminds us how easy it is to cross a line, and how ridiculous it looks when we do.
“When emotions are high, it’s easy to go too far.”
Cake or tart?
The story begins offstage. Earlier in the day, Benjamin had sought to join Henry’s schoolyard “gang.” Henry rebuffed him and, in the resulting scuffle, Benjamin struck Henry with a stick. The result? A swollen lip and bruised gum, along with the missing incisors.
As the curtain rises, Benjamin’s parents, Alan and Annette, have joined Henry’s parents, Michael and Veronica, in the latter’s Brooklyn, N.Y., living room. For a time, civility prevails. “Clafouti, is it a cake or a tart?” asks Annette. “A cake,” Veronica responds. “The pastry’s not rolled out.”
“They’re getting to know one another, putting on this show of politeness,” Ginoplos said. “But beneath the surface, emotions are simmering. Chaos ensues.”
The parents agree that the sons should make peace, but quibble over details and even how to describe the incident. Tones turn testy. Voices creep upward. Alan, glued to his cellphone, makes a show of distraction. Michael recounts his own childhood fisticuffs with suspicious relish. Annette’s discomfort turns spectacularly physical, to the detriment of Veronica’s Kokoschka catalogue.
“These characters certainly have redeeming qualities,” Ginoplos said. “They all have touching moments. But throughout the play, they seem to try less and less. Each gives up in his or her own way, which is interesting to see. What pushes people so far they can’t be bothered anymore? Can they come back from that?
“The play asks if we, as civilized humans, are capable of overcoming the urge to fight about differences of opinion,” Ginoplos concluded. “When someone disagrees, it’s easy to get defensive and put fists up. Hopefully, being able to laugh about that will encourage us all to approach disagreements with more respect.”
Cast and crew
The cast of four stars Amariyon Green as Alan, Hope McKinney as Annette, AJ Harness as Michael and Samantha Campisi as Veronica.
Scenic design is by Sarah Cullinane, with assistance by Sara Wargo. Props are by Emily Frei. Costumes are by Asher Feinstein. Lighting and sound are by Zach Cohn and Gigi Taillon. Stage manager is Seamus Curtin, with assistance from Sruthi Ainapurapu.
Becca Mersinger is the costume shop supervisor. Isabelle Scheibe is stage management supervisor. Jackson Rushen is technical director. Catherine Adams is the production electrician.
“God of Carnage” will begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16, 17 and 18. Matinee performances will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 18 and 19.
The A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd. Tickets are $20, or $15 for seniors, students and WashU faculty and staff, and free for WashU students. Tickets are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office. For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit pad.wustl.edu.
Content warning: Please note that this play includes a graphic depiction of illness.