Newsday Review: This ‘Carnage’ has plenty of punch

Review: God of Carnage

By Steve Parks steve.parks@newsday.com

WHAT: “God of Carnage”
WHEN | WHERE: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through March 6, John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main St.
TICKETS: $59-$64; 631-261-2900, engemantheater.com

Watching other people behave badly – unless they’re your children – is great fun. That’s why “God of Carnage,” the slim reed of domestic farce that won French author Yasmina Reza a 2009 Tony for best play, is a fat-free delight. As directed by Richard Dolce at the Engeman THeter, insults baring shards of humor high and low collide like verbal barbs propelled by a Punch-and-Judy atom smasher.

You smell blood from the start, although the only visceral substance hurled in this 80-minute descent from civility to savagery is – be warned – vomit.

Veronica and Michael have invited another couple, Annette and Alan, to their upscale Brooklyn apartment to discuss an altercation between their sons. Henry, the hosts’ scion, was struck by Benjamin with a stick that knocked out two teeth. Despite the polite veneer of their opening remarks, you know where this is headed once Veronica states that Benjamin was “armed.” Combat is implied but never realized as the couples square off, first against each other. But later, gender alliances form and dissolve and spouses go for the jugular with the ferocity of one who knows the most vulnerable vein.

Nancy Lemenager as Veronica epitomizes the folly of good manners in the face of bad vibes. She’s writing a book on Darfur and fancies herself an African-culture expert. She treasures an out-of-print book no one else cares about. Her husband, Michael, is a nuts-and-bolts guy – a housewares wholesaler whose expertise is literally in the toilet. Mickey Solis as Michael chafes at the restraint of politeness he suffers until he pours his guests – and himself – snoot-fulls of primo rum.

Annette, the so-called “wealth manager” played by Alet Taylor with a teetering balance between defensiveness and not-offending, throws up all over Veronica’s prized coffee-table books, while her husband, Alan, serially intrudes with constant and unapologetic cellphone interruptions. A corporate attorney, Alan is frantic to fend off charges against an errant pharmaceutical company he represents. Chris Kipiniak animates Alan’s savage instincts – he believes in the “god of carnage” who rules us all – with a gusto that can only be defeated by disarmament. (We won’t give away how he’s disarmed.)

Set designer Stephen Dobay brilliantly stages this confrontation with a Louise Nevelson-style art piece topped by out-of-reach books that bespeak intellectual phoniness.
We laugh, as well we may, because it’s not our kids, not our marriage.

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