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The God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza
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The God of Carnage

by Yasmina Reza

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This play has the feel of Eugene O'Neill or Edward Albee, only more compact. It unfolds over a single act in the living room as two couples address the fact that one of their son's hit the others' son in the fact with a stick, breaking his two front teeth. It starts out with relatively civilized mutual understanding and apologies but slowly and inevitably degenerates into immature multidimensional fighting, pitting not just the couples against each other but also the husbands against the wives. In the course, it provides a psychologically astute portrait of the couples and their struggles with each other and themselves. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

How to be an adult

I’m not a fan of plays. I am amazed myself why I was compelled to read a review of this and borrow it. It’s either the review is too convincing or the play is too good. Or maybe I just like the sound of the title. Sometimes, we just pick our next reads without much thought, right?

This does not mean though that the play is a thoughtless piece of literature. It’s about these two pairs of parents who are trying to have an adult conversation regarding their respective sons. One son hit the other while they were at the park. There are medical expenses to take care of, but what concerns the parents the most is the prevention of this violent and childish behavior. So yes, they will all be adults about this, hence, the adult conversation for an adult resolution.

There’s only one act, so we are stuck with the four in a nice and posh living room. I could imagine the smell of fresh linen, the incandescent lights, the spotless fastidiousness of a housekeeper who knows how to do her job right. It’s not the room where you would leave hyperactive 11-year-old kids. There’s a sense of serenity in it, but this is easily disturbed as one parent after another breaks out of his or her so-called adult upbringing.

Children consume and fracture our lives. Children drag us towards disaster, it’s unavoidable. When you see those laughing couples casting off into the sea of matrimony, you say to yourself, they have no idea, poor things, they just have no idea, they’re happy. No one tells you anything when you start out. I have an old school pal who’s just about to have a child with his new girlfriend. I said to him, “A child, at your age, are you insane?” The ten or dozen good years left to us before we get cancer or a stroke, and you’re going to bugger yourself up with some brat?

Michel and Veronique, parents of the so-called victim, invite Alain and Annette over. Each parent has a distinct character, and this is easily revealed in the exchange of dialogues and actions. Of course, this is a play, what am I thinking?

The discussion of their kids’ behavior started with all civility. Alain’s mobile phone rings incessantly. Annette shows signs of vulnerability. Veronique’s self-absorption becomes too evident. Michel takes out a bottle of rum. And then there’s … carnage. An exchange of verbal assaults, that is. It’s a royal rumble, although there’s also some humor in the way the characters react to the situation.

Every façade that each parent erected is dismantled with each turn of the discussion. They snicker behind each other, they inadvertently show the cracks of their marriages, they shed off their skin, one by one, to reveal their true characters. So this is me. Isn’t it funny? I’m all grown up, I have kids, I have a stable job, and yet, I have not let go of this nibbling irrationality. It surfaces every so often without me really knowing it. But I tell my kids how they should behave. I should know how they should act, and I should castigate them if they don’t act accordingly.

So is that what being an adult is? Tell anyone what to do without examining yourself? The conversation meanders from various random topics. It is through these that we see their biases and prejudices, the things that make them do things, and the reasons behind their reasoning. The play goes on and on with this bickering that didn’t fail to entertain me. I like it, and I’m thinking of watching its film adaptation since I doubt that I will ever see this on stage. (But it was presented last July with our own Lea Salonga and of course, I just found this out today through the news archives.)

I think the title is charmed. Or jinxed. I read the entire play on my bus rides to and from the office. On the last reading, while I was on the second to the last page, something happened. A man, probably in his early 20s, pointed his knife at the neck of the passenger right in front of me. He commanded him to hand over his smartphone. The passenger couldn’t help it; he complied without any word.

When I hear of such stories, I am infuriated because of the people around the victim not doing anything. Why didn’t they help? Why did they let the felon go just like that? Now I think I know the reason: they froze in fear. I couldn’t lift my eyes off the knife. I could only hold on to a book 60 pages long, as if it were the most solid shield against any sharp-edged weapon. I couldn’t think of anything else to do. In hindsight, the whole act lasted for no more than ten seconds, including the escape.

Isn’t it a coincidence that this small-scale carnage happened while I was reading the book? Was the God of Carnage summoned by my reading? And mind you, the victim could’ve been me. I might have been fiddling with my phone had I not been reading. The thief might have chosen me instead of the man in front of me. So you see, depending on how you see things, the book is charmed. Or jinxed. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
I'm going to sound like such a snob but this play left me so unsatisfied. It felt like Albee-lite, with no real purpose or resolution to the unfolding chaos. The characters never evolved beyond their established archetypes and the stereotypical markers of power and gender (men are brutes and like war! Women are bitches!) didn't evolve to give us any deeper insight other than "Adults can be so childish." I imagine it would be very entertaining to see performed, and I must keep in mind how different an experience it is to read a play in comparison to watching one (this is also a translated play), but why briefly raise topics such as the inherent narcissism of the bourgeois and the universality of anger and war if you're not going to do anything with them? ( )
  Ceilidhann | Sep 20, 2013 |
Two couple come together for the purpose of having a "civilized discussion" about an act of violence that occurred between their sons. But what, finally, is "civilization"? Is it a mere sham? Or, although real, does it carry us away from our natural human impulses? Does civilization resolve anything in the end?

How does the behavior of "grownups" differ from the rough schoolyard savagery of children? Are they the same? And do the formalities of the former merely disguise the brutality of the latter?

A very depressing play. One that I'm unsure whether I'd want to see, let alone perform in. I dunno. Depends on my mood, I guess.

If you go to see this play, my advice is that you not sit in the front row, unless you're one of those hardy or masochistic souls who'd be front and center at a Gallagher show and who'd like to be spattered with bits of exploded melon. Only in this case, it'd be puke. Probably fake puke, unless the actress who plays Annette is gastrically super-talented. ( )
  EricKibler | Apr 5, 2013 |
A terrific play! It is a quick, spirited argument between two couples that is richly layered and enormously entertaining. The only complaint I have is that it doesn't seem to have much of a premise; or, if it does, the premise is deeply obscured by the dialectical fireworks. It's fun to read and I can only assume that it is fun to watch (I've never seen a production). It recently received a Broadway treatment, but I suspect that a second act would have probably netted it a bevy of additional rewards. Thumbs up as is. ( )
  Narboink | Sep 28, 2011 |
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"A playground altercation between eleven-year-old boys brings together two sets of Brooklyn parents for a meeting to resolve the matter. At first, diplomatic niceties are observed, but as the meeting progresses, and the rum flows, tensions emerge and the gloves come off, leaving the couples with more than just their liberal principles in tatters"--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

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