When helicopter parents turn their vehicles into gunships, all hell will break loose pretty soon. That's what happens in "God of Carnage," Yazmina Reza's Tony-winning play which opened at the Rep last night, to run through Nov. 6. The strong, talented cast came out of the gate at full speed, partly because the same group has been working at the Cincinnati Playhouse for the last month. Ed Stern directed here, as he did there.
Reza, a French playwright whose outstanding work, "Art," has been a St. Louis hit at both the Rep and the Black Rep in recent years, has picked a relatively easy subject, two sets of semi-wealthy parents whose 11-year-old children got into a playground fight. Benjamin Raleigh picked up a stick and knocked out two of Henry Novak's teeth, ending it.
Before the blood is dry, Alan (Anthony Marble) and Annette (Susan Louise O'Connor) Raleigh are sitting in the living room of Michael (Triney Sandoval) and Veronica (Eva Kaminsky) Novak's fancy Brooklyn apartment with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan.
Reza's brilliant dialogue, translated by English playwright Christopher Hampton, sizzles from start to finish, but there are unanswered questions. Where is Michael, and why is his doting mother not with him, either at home or with the physician or dentist? And, for that matter, where is Benjamin? We seem to start in daylight (after school?), and there is a reference to completing the discussion "later." If the 95-minute play matches real time, that would still place an ending between 5 and 6 p.m. The printed program is no help. It says only that the time is the present and the place is Brooklyn, both rather obvious.
Of course, drinking more rum than a pirate crew creates additional difficulties and drunks - at least on-stage drunks - are always good sources of humor. It's a little overdone, but there's always projectile vomiting to put us back on track.
But laughter eliminates confusion, and there's a lot of that, led by a marvelous demonstration by O'Connor, whose facial expressions -- especially a mouth that moves even when it's not speaking -- are absolutely hilarioust. Marble also turns in a remarkable performance; his body language speaks volumes and he delivers with power. It's obvious that Sandoval, who runs a wholesale business, takes a deferential position in the early going; after all, Marble is an attorney in an expensive, perfectly tailored suit. Kaminsky works in an art book store, obviously is a political liberal and has written a book on Darfur, giving her an edge over O'Connor, and she's a skilled physical comic.
The various battlegrounds keep shifting: Men against women, one family against the other, each individual against another. As the gloves come off, and the veneer of civilization peels away, a lot of anger comes through and things heat up. The Raleighs admit their son is in the wrong, but only a teensy-weensy bit.
When Sandoval discusses his relationship with the family's pet hamster, he's a sheer delight. So is Marble, showing exquisite timing in phone conversations with a pharmaceutical firm he represents. The telephone certainly is an old plot device, but Hampton's translation of Reza's writing is perfect, and so is Marble's performance. Stern's direction is tight and beautifully paced and all four actors are as in tune as a string quartet.
Narelle Sissons designed a perfect living room set for the time and place, and Gordon DeVinney's costumes have the proper look. It's a funny evening at the theater.
God of Carnage, presented by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, opened last night on the Mainstage of the Loretto-Hilton Center, and will run through Nov. 6.