Yasmina Reda’s "God of Carnage" is known as a comedy, though a very dark one, and it must be admitted that most members of the audience at Haddonfield Plays and Players laughed heartily and frequently. But with the laughter there is an uncomfortable feeling that there may be too much truth in it. This 70-minute play, with no intermission, concerns two couples, Michael and Veronica Novak and Alan and Annette Raleigh. Each couple has an 11-year-old son. The boys got into a playground fight and the Raleighs’ son hit the Novaks’ son with a heavy stick and knocked out two of his teeth. The parents are meeting at the Novaks’ home to discuss the matter. They start out politely enough, but end up squabbling like children themselves.
The actors are truly amazing. John Jackowski, often seen on the Ritz stage, is Michael, a macho type who horrifies the others when he admits to turning his child’s pet hamster out into the street because it made too much noise. His self-loathing becomes evident as his pacing and foul language increase. As his wife, Veronica, Megan Knowlton West goes from being the perfect hostess to near-hysteria. John Comegno is Alan, a sleazy lawyer who defends crooked pharmaceutical companies, believes in the “god of carnage” (bloodshed and mayhem), and is wedded to his cell phone more than to his wife, Annette. As played by Cara Hvisdas, Annette obviously feels this, and her pain is visible. In her nervousness, she becomes sick and throws up on the coffee table. This, of course, leads to embarrassed apologies and a massive clean-up effort. Eventually Michael breaks out the rum, and no holds are barred. He “drowns” Alan’s cell phone in a vase and Annette throws Veronica’s prized tulips across the room. The fight between the two boys is forgotten in the fight among their parents. But there is a moment toward the end, as the lights dim, that suggests they are beginning to realize what they have done.
Rebekah Macchione, the director who also designed the attractive upper-middle-class set, has done a remarkable job with a difficult show, and all the production crew deserve praise also.
In closing, one wonders if the play is a reflection of the violence in today’s society and if our laughter at it is desensitizing us to it. Probably not—people have been laughing at staged quarrels and violence for centuries. But it’s something to think about.