It's billed as a comedy of manners — without the manners. But watching people behave badly as their marriages falter, their lives are rent and their dirty laundry is aired for all to see is one of the most attractive draws to theater audiences.
In her 2009 Tony-Award-winning play "God of Carnage," French playwright Yasmina Reza illuminates the gaucheness that hovers beneath sophistication when two couples meet to discuss a playground fight between their two respective children.
One child has knocked the other's teeth out — but as the civil discussion degrades into savage mayhem, the battle becomes much larger than the children's original tussle.
Pacific Repertory Theatre's intimate Circle Theatre makes the perfect fighting ring for this production, which opens Saturday (with one discount preview of the bloodbath taking place on Friday).
Directed by Kenneth Kelleher, the production stars PacRep resident artists Julie Hughett and Tim Hart, as well as guest Equity artists Rebecca Dines and Cassidy Brown, as the two highly strung couples at odds with each other.
"What I like about this play is that it's a battle over how to rear a child, (but) what it does is come to a realization that we're all children," said Kelleher. "It evolves into a shouting match, like four kids in a playground, each wanting to get what they want at the expense of another."
"Both plays deal with rituals and games that adults play with each other — secret games in which not everyone knows what's happening," said Kelleher, comparing the two. "Both deal with children who (appear to be) at the center of their parents' lives, but then their lives are really centered around themselves. The children are symbols of their affluence. Children are not the main event in the play; the parents are using the children as foils to get something they want."
He added that while both plays take a disturbing look at dysfunctional relationships and manipulation between couples, "God of Carnage" has a much lighter, more comical tone. In contrast to "Virginia Woolf," it also has a sliver of hope at the end.
"There's humor here, because we recognize these things as being human," said Hughett, who plays the part of one of the wives in the verbal touché. "Everyone has moments where we revert to childlike behavior. We start talking about our kids — but then we end up talking about ourselves. As the conversation continues, the kids disappear and the parents' issues take over. It's so artfully done."
And though the children's issues do indeed disappear as the battle thickens, the play still makes commentary on modern parenting, said Kelleher. "We now live in a time where we as parents want to — or have to, or think we can do — many things at the same time. Not just multitasking at work, but multitasking in relationships. It's that Costco mentality that we can do it all: one-stop shopping."
Hughett added, "As a parent, I think there's a bit of truth in every line. We all have little bits of these traits within us — including great love."
Lily Dayton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. GO!
·What: Pacific Repertory Theatre presents "God of Carnage"
·Where: Circle Theatre of the Golden Bough Playhouse, Casanova Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues, Carmel
·When: Previews at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 1; opens Saturday, June 2, at 7:30pm; continues at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through June 16, with additional weeknight performances at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, June 27, 28, July 5, 11 and 12; matinee performances at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays on June 2, 10, 17, 30 and July 7 and 14
·Tickets: $16-$38 (discounts for seniors, children, students, teachers, military) at the Golden Bough Box Office, Carmel (Tuesday - Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.), 622-0100 or www.pacrep.org