It’s a lovely day at the playground. The sun’s shining on birds chirping cheerful songs. Then WHACK, my kid hits your kid in the face. A stick to the GD mouth. There’s plenty of blood and that kinda looks like teeth on the ground. Well, shit. What do we do? We reconvene after everyone’s cleaned up and try to talk out the situation like grown-ass adults, that’s what we do.
This is the basis of “God of Carnage,” a play by French writer and actress Yasmina Reza. “God of Carnage” is a joint production of the Durango Arts Center Theatre and Merely Players and will be shown at DAC the last two weekends in February. In “God of Carnage,” you enter a living room where, for 90 nonstop minutes, two sets of parents start off with good intentions. They want to solve their sons’ disagreement. Unfortunately for them, the situation devolves. Fortunately for us, that devolution is hysterical. It is almost schadenfreude – you are laughing at the misery that they find themselves in … until you realize the conflicts they face are also your own.
Once a season for the past five years, Merely Players and DAC have joined forces to create intense, immersive art. “God of Carnage” is the latest example of two brilliant theater companies who are “really committed to the idea of not wanting to be competitive companies,” said Mona Wood-Patterson, director of Merely Players. “We want to enhance each other’s work.”
Theresa Carson, artistic director and manager of DAC Theatre who also plays one of the mothers in the play added, “It’s a collaboration. We are supportive of one another and share resources.”
“God of Carnage” is a mega-popular modern play that garnered crap-tons of Tony nominations and wins when it starred Jeff Daniels on Broadway. Though it premiered in 2006, its prominence continues because the main theme – might vs. right – is a universal conversation that will never go off trend. “God of Carnage” is an excruciating portrait of how people treat each other when they disagree. Given the current national climate, a play like “God of Carnage” is on point. Carson noted, “We are finding a lot of parallels between the political arena today and issues that are being discussed in the play.”
“It is uncomfortably relevant,” Wood-Patterson added. “Underneath the veneer of civility lies the truth of instinct … All the tension between these two couples bring two different viewpoints in a room. Now we’re all in that situation politically. You don’t know when you enter a room where other people stand. You want to handle that civilly, but everyone is a little on edge with all those feelings right under the surface.”
“It’s not, ‘Hey, ho! Let’s go to the theater and forget all our troubles,’” said Wood-Patterson. “Theater has different purposes. Sometimes it is just going to be entertained. And sometimes it is to provoke thought and have moments of recognition.” But introspection aside, “It is a comedy. It is very funny,” said Carson. “I love that element of you’re laughing but underneath you’re asking, ‘Is this funny? Should I be laughing?’ It’s an exciting contradiction.”
If you are looking for a simple play, “God of Carnage” is not it. The alliances between characters constantly shift. No one is the bad guy. Or maybe everyone is the bad guy. You may root for Carson’s character as she stands up for moral responsibility, only to realize that you completely disagree with her next opinion. “There’s a line I say,” Carson said, “‘We as individuals have to have a moral conception of the world. To live up to that conception as moral citizens.’ And of course, then I revert into an animalistic creature.” There are no perfect people here, which is what makes “God of Carnage” so powerful.
Even the title is brutal. “God of Carnage.” What does that mean? It comes from a line of the play said by Alan, “You see, Veronica, I believe in the god of carnage. He has ruled, uninterruptedly, since the dawn of time.” To that, Wood-Patterson added, “It’s not that he is promoting violence. He is saying that there is a top dog and people will always resort to whatever gets them to being the top dog.” The audience is not given an answer on what is more powerful, might versus right. Instead, they’re given an outrageous, cathartic experience of what happens when people release the reins of decorum.