Hostilities are breaking out this month at the Marin Theatre Company. In Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning “God of Carnage,” what starts as a polite meeting between concerned parents gradually devolves into all-out war.
Reza’s sharply written, savagely funny comedy imagines what happens when two well-heeled couples come together to settle a playground dispute between their respective 11-year-old sons.
Talk, of course, only gets them so far.
When the parties find themselves unable to negotiate, the Parisian playwright strips away the civilized veneer and shows us her characters’ reptilian brains.
The fun of Reza’s 2006 play, originally written in French and translated by British playwright Christopher Hampton, is watching four skilled actors battle it out. The Marin production, expertly directed by Ryan Rilette, has a terrific cast of equals in Bay Area stage veterans Stacy Ross, Remi Sandri, Warren David Keith and Rachel Harker.
The situation looks manageable at first, as Veronica (Ross) and Michael (Sandri) welcome Alan (Keith) and Annette (Harker) into their artsy living room (elegant set by Nina Ball, with crisp lighting by Mike Palumbo and chic costumes by Meg Neville.)
As they chat over coffee and clafouti, their differences begin to emerge. Veronica, a collector of African art who’s writing a book on Darfur, clashes with Alan, a lawyer defending pharmaceutical companies from liability claims. Annette, a prim “wealth manager,” is horrified by Michael, a self-described “Neanderthal.”
Tempers flare, and things get physical. Well-timed phone calls, from Alan’s panicked clients and Michael’s ailing mother, are hilarious irritants.
Rilette keeps the action moving and the laughs coming. The performances are superb — Ross gives Veronica a tightly wound, exacting edge, and Keith makes Alan a shark. When they switch from coffee to rum, Sandri’s Michael swaggers convincingly, and Harker’s Annette lets loose, literally.
“God of Carnage” ratchets up the tension with sudden outbursts and shifting alliances — men against men, men against women and couples against each other. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, with each character getting a chance to attack.
But Reza, whose previous plays include “Art,” knows that words are the most powerful weapons. She peppers the text with small explosions — words such as “victim,” “snitch,” “disfigure,” “on purpose” — finally suggesting that it’s language itself that slays us. In her version of war, talk of peace is both funny and futile.
God of Carnage
Where: Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. most Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes June 17
Tickets: $34 to $55
Contact: (415) 388-5208, www.marintheatre.org