William Golding, author of “Lord of the Flies,” noted that even the most civilized nation is one small step away from savagery. That same premise lies at the heart of “God of Carnage,” the final production of Door County’s Peninsula Players’ 2011 summer season.
French playwright Yasmina Reza plays the concept for laughs in her story of two couples who come together over a playground scuffle between their sons that costs one of them two teeth. The encounter sends the four adults spiraling into savagery.
The message is clear and, while the treatment is humorous, the concept can create a little discomfort, according to Greg Vinkler, Peninsula Players’ artistic director. He’s also directing the production.
“Under our civilized exterior, you don’t have to dig very far to find that animal within that’s ready to kill,” Vinkler says. “We accept it more during war time and during natural disasters, but we don’t expect to see it appear in civilized parental settings, yet it’s sitting right there.”
“God of Carnage” premiered in Zurich in 2006 to strong critical acclaim, moving on to Paris and London in 2008 and Broadway in 2009. It’s won multiple awards in all four countries, including the 2009 Tony Award for best play.
In Peninsula Players’ production, translated from the French by Christopher Hampton, attorney Alan (Kevin McKillip) and his wife Annette (Karen Janes Woditsch) face self-made entrepreneur Michael (Joe Foust) and his ailing wife Veronica (Maggie Carney) after Alan and Annette’s son Benjamin knocks out two of Michael and Veronica’s son Henry’s teeth with a stick. The quartet’s goal is to address the issue rationally and civilly. By the end of the evening, however, the discussion devolves into irrational arguments peppered with notes of misogyny, racism and homophobia.
“Old battles about men, women and their most stereotypical ideas about each other come into play because the feelings are so clearly manifestations of illogical people in extremis,” Vinkler says. “They function more like reflections of people who can’t think of anything intelligent to say, or like children calling each other ‘ugly’ or saying, ‘I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!’”
The play’s title is taken from the character Alan’s dialogue. In an exchange with his wife, Alan says, “You see, Veronica, I believe in a god of carnage. He has ruled uninterruptedly, since the dawn of time.”
Despite its dark undercurrent, Vinkler says the play is uproariously funny. Through humor, it makes salient points to which we all can relate.
“I saw the show in New York and knew immediately that I wanted to do it with Peninsula Players as soon as I could get the rights,” Vinkler says. “It’s very funny, very smart and we had a great time previously doing ‘Art,’ one of the author’s earlier plays.”
The production, which runs from Sept. 7 through Oct. 16, closes a strong season that mixed comedy and drama. “God of Carnage” should leave audiences laughing, but also with a serious message to take to heart, Vinkler says.
“I would love it if audiences had a great time, laughed a lot and went away with perhaps a slightly new way to look at the world around them,” he says. “I think, basically, that we can all be savages when it comes right down to it.”
Peninsula Players’ production of Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage” runs Sept. 7-Oct. 16. Go to www.peninsulaplayers.com.