Performed without an intermission, GOD OF CARNAGE depicts two couples - strangers, no less - brought together in one of their Brooklyn living rooms by an altercation that their two young sons were involved in before the play begins. One naïve boy bashed another with a stick, causing facial "disfigurement" and consequently stirring an awkward afternoon meeting between the two involved parties' families. The couples end up quarreling like children rather than attempting to solve the issue in a civilized manner, and the resulting 75-minute play is a mischievous romp through moments of drama, physical comedy, and just about everything else in between.
Susan Angelo somewhat hesitantly steps up to the plate as Annette, a high-strung, sophisticated mother sporting a tweed suit of which none other than Jackie Kennedy herself would be proud (one moment in particular near the end of the show lets Ms. Angelo's comedic timing shine as she drunkenly drapes herself over her hostesses' couch in lament); David Whalen, who plays her husband, Alan, tackles the role of a high-powered businessman with great ease, far more concerned with his perpetually-vibrating cell phone than the precarious conflict at hand.
The true standout, however, comes in Deirdre Madigan (last seen on Broadway in MTC's AFTER THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC, directed by Daniel Sullivan) as Veronica, the meeting's somewhat passive-agressive hostess. Ms. Madigan plays the show's arguably meatiest role, for which Marcia Gay Harden won a Tony Award two years prior, and does so with fervent flair: one could almost never guess that the unruffled woman seen onstage at the top of the evening will have descended into the show's uniquely characteristic brand of chaos by the end of the afternoon.
The set, designed by Anne Mundell, is of particular note: the modernly-furnished living room so pristine and lovely as the audience files into the theatre for the first time is comically in shambles at the play's close. Additionally, the set's back wall has a jagged bite-like section missing from it, with wooden paneling in the rear that changes in color (lit ingeniously by lighting designer Phil Monat) as the mood shifts throughout the course of the show.
On the whole, GOD OF CARNAGE emerges at its close with a profound commentary on the prevalence of the base instincts of brutality in the modern world, leaving many-an unanswered philosophical question. Even still, it provides its audiences with countless laughs over just how silly it can be when adults befall a bout of childlike immaturity - if just for an afternoon.
GOD OF CARNAGE runs through June 26, 2011 at the O'Reilly Theater, Pittsburgh Public Theater's home in the heart of Downtown's Cultural District. For tickets call 412.316.1600 or visit ppt.org.
Ted Koch and David Whalen
Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Public Theater