When people praise a biting comedy, they dont usually mean a comedy about biting. But I might have seen one actors choppers close briefly on a foe in Yasmina Rezas God of Carnage at Actors Theatre of Charlotte. The play offers a supposedly civilized quartet who cant disagree amicably and end up gnashing teeth at each other.
The French-born Reza, who lives in Paris, depends on translators to make effects. She has said her work, including the Tony-winning Art and God of Carnage, seems more serious to French audiences and funnier when its translated into English. (Christopher Hampton, who famously adapted Dangerous Liaisons for the stage, translated both those plays.)
So Ann Marie Costa had leeway while directing the local premiere of Carnage, and she has chosen to get as many laughs as she can from the well-matched cast. They romp through bouts of petulance, weeping, tipsiness, destruction of each others characters and possessions, even a barfing scene as long and explicit as any Ive seen onstage.
Im not sure the play adds up to much, but you wont be adding it up as you giggle and wince. Reza finds ways to keep the combatants onstage and on point through her 90 intermission-less minutes, though the play dissipates in memory on the drive home. (Some critics said the same thing about Art, but that one stayed with me longer.)
The title refers to the belief, expressed by the two men at their least appealing, that a primitive deity of destruction rules our lives. Until that declaration, lawyer Alan (Brian Lafontaine) and home furnishings wholesaler Michael (Brett Gentile) have been at odds. Now they unite against their respective wives, wealth manager Annette (Allison Lamb Tansor) and author Veronica (Catherine Smith).
Long forgotten is the reason they all came together in the first place: To discuss what to do about their sons, one of whom hit the other in the face with a stick and knocked out two front teeth.
Once polite facades get stripped away, the men become emotional Neanderthals, while the women get shriller and sadder. In the final line of the play, Michael lamely asks, What do we know? The answer, presumably, is Nothing. But that would mean Reza has written a nihilistic play mocking the mens self-confessed nihilism.
Michael and Veronica get the widest range of expression, and Gentile and Smith sink their teeth (yes, it had to be said) into those parts. He veers from meek bonhomie to irate roaring, she from chilly politeness to heated despair. Lafontaine does what he can with the shallow role of the hissably corrupt attorney, while Lamb finds a bit of depth in the put-upon Annette, whose mood swings dont always make sense.
Designer Chip Decker manages to make Michael and Veronicas home look stylish and lived-in yet barren at the same time, as if the children they talk about were figments of their imagination. Splashes of red around the room alert us that metaphorically, at least blood will be spilled here.