'God of Carnage': Heaven Help Us
Well, it's finally happened: I hate straight people.
I knew it was coming, of course. After 43 years of being pummeled by their insipid Mars/Venus melodramas; obsession with procreating; and endless drooling over one another's naughty bits in song, film, television, stage and real life, my gay back has finally been broken. Enter God of Carnage, the Yasmina Reza megahit produced everywhere on the planet—even in Slovenia. It's a terribly popular play because it showcases all of those hetero gender clichés we've come to, um, love, as well as the subterranean bigotry, violence and venom that upper-middle-class white people try to hide in order to distinguish themselves from the unwashed, browner masses. It's also the crazy cart that has sent me over the edge.
The 90-minute war of words, directed by Brian Newell at Maverick Theater, is set in the living room of Michael (Brian Kojac) and Veronica (Laura Orlow-Kojac), parents of 11-year-old Henry, who has recently had two of his teeth knocked out by another 11-year-old, Benjamin. Ben's parents, Alan (David Herblin) and Annette (Andrea Dennison-Laufer), have come to discuss the event and sign a paper acknowledging their child willfully, and with malice, attacked Henry. As the two sets of parents probe further into the scrap, their own lives and personalities unfold and eventually unravel, exposing their true nature—you know, that ugly thing we must hide when we're not 11-year-olds anymore.
Once alcohol gets into the mix and some physical altercations (by the women) ignite, comparisons to Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are inevitable. This exploration of troubled adults and marriages in peril might even be seen as a modernized Woolf, except unlike with that monumental piece of work, by the evening's end, we aren't left with very much. Albee's George and Martha do plenty of snarling and snarking, but finally, we get to know them; we understand them and their sad lives and pitiful choices. In Carnage, we are simply left with small personal shames: Do we act like that? Do our friends? One glance at the overly civilized exteriors of my peer group of parents, and I'd say yes. And it's here that Carnage might do a bit of good because it's really not about the personal story of any of the characters the way Woolf was solely about George and Martha's codependent psychosis.
Instead, Carnage can be seen as a fairly accurate reflection of Gen-X parents who, though raised in an economically prosperous world without much danger, have somehow turned into the most annoying, paranoid people on the planet. Unlike their Boomer folks, Gen-X parents feel incredibly entitled and will go to the point of lawsuit to prove their children are exceptional and faultless—even regular activities such as kids hanging out together must be renamed with special, all-important titles such as "playdate." They aren't to be confused with the parents of the Greatest Generation, of course, the Benjamin Braddock-type custodians from The Graduate who were annoying simply because they were unable to grasp the exploding cultural changes around them. (To their credit, they also didn't analyze their offspring and spousal psyches to the point of producing nauseating fits, and they didn't wear blinders on purpose—they were actually just blind.) The parents of Carnage are not like any parents who've come before; they are a new breed, and they are us, the real monsters of the real "me" generation.
Regardless of the lack of depth and exploration into character, this production, deftly staged by Newell and delivered with superior skill by the cast, is a real crowd-pleaser, as evidenced by the uproarious laughter generated when Annette and Veronica lose their cool and Michael and Alan parody the worst clichés of maleness—straight people still have endless buckets of sympathy and interest in a man with no manners, that lovable old Neanderthal.
For the rest of us, those who are non-white, non-straight or child-free, the clashing of delicate egos and crashing flimsy façades is nothing revolutionary or very interesting. While people such as those in Carnage might actually believe their miseries and myopia are well-hidden, we who live outside of that purified-water fish bowl can spot the cracks in the glass from a good hundred paces, and reliving it in fiction isn't necessarily our favorite way to pass the time—nothing personal. As a small dose of much-needed truth serum, however, God of Carnage makes the grade. Here's hoping a few straight-laced folks open wide. Next week: Why I hate lesbians (thanks, Jodie Foster).
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