The busiest person in the Old Globe’s production of Yasmina Reza’s black comedy God of Carnage has to be whoever cleans up afterward. As the French would say, for this play was originally La Dieu du carnage, “Quelle disaster!”
The premise is innocent enough: After one 11-year-old boy whacks the other with a stick, doing dental damage, the parents of the kids get together to politely hash out the reparations. Soon the conversation degenerates into chaos. Discussing becomes arguing. Talk becomes tantrum. We get it: the parents are the real children.
In spite of this obvious revelation, God of Carnage, directed with abandon by Richard Seer, is outrageously funny once it finds its momentum. As the story calls for the two couples to start out wary but cooperative, the play’s first 15 minutes or so have little more than Alan’s (T. Ryder Smith) annoyingly intrusive cell-phone calls for tension. But once his wife, Annette (Caitlin Muelder), whom he calls “Woof-Woof,” vomits what has to be a world-record vomit, all civility goes out the window. Hosts Michael (Lucas Caleb Rooney) and Veronica (Erika Rolfsrud) are not only cleaning up, they’re trying to clean each other’s clock – when they’re not going at it with Alan and Annette. Throw in some potent rum, a “murdered” hamster and enough self-righteousness for a tent revival and you’ve got what Michael calls with exasperation a “psychodrama.”
The vomiting scene is a minor marvel of special effects. No one and nothing are spared, including Veronica’s prized art books on the coffee table and the until-then cheery glass bowl of tulips atop it. (Those tulips, turns out, are also destined for carnage.) The post-puking clean-up duty, complete with hair dryer, is more hilarious than what preceded it, though just as queasy.
Three of the combatants are portrayed by graduates of the Old Globe/University of San Diego MFA program: Muelder, Rolsfrud and Rooney, whose throwaway lines and vacillating self-control make Michael the most entertaining of the foursome.
This local premiere of a play that was a hit on Broadway (in 2009) and later a film directed by Roman Polanski is a crash course in adult misbehavior. Accent on crash.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.