FORGET FANCY SCENE CHANGES, elaborate sets, and complicated plot contrivances. If you want to see four people really inflict some damage on each other, Artists Repertory Theatre's current production of God of Carnage shows just how little it takes: All you really need is a living room, a few festering resentments, and some booze to pour on top of it all.
God of Carnage arrives via France from playwright Yasmina Reza, whose play Art is probably still blowing teenaged minds in high school drama programs nationwide. Carnage, though originally set in Paris, is relocated here to Portland, Oregon, thanks to a few discreet tweaks: Plug in a park name here, a flower shop there, and the local color is convincing enough that this Parisian catfight translates seamlessly to Portland's Pearl District.
The setup: Two boys have had a fight. One has hit the other in the face with a stick. The parents of the kid who got his face smashed have invited the parents of the kid who did the smashing over for a civilized talk—or so they think. It becomes immediately apparent that the meeting may not go quite as planned: When Michael (Patrick Dizney) and his bobo perfectionist of a wife Veronica (Allison Tigard) characterize the son of power couple Alan (Michael Mendelson) and Annette (Trisha Miller) as having been "armed" with a stick, that choice of words inflames Alan's lawyerly sensibilities. It soon becomes clear that Alan and Annette will be unable to muster the remorse that Veronica thinks is befitting the attack on her son.
The play, clearly, is about more than just a schoolyard brawl—it calls into question each couple's foundational ideas about their families and their lives, not to mention the basic rules we all agree to abide by in order to maintain some semblance of a civilized coexistence. Fortunately both for the audience and for the ensemble, who embrace their characters' excesses with gusto, Reza's script calls for an element of comic violence that borders on slapstick. This levity tempers her otherwise quite French insistence that most of what we believe and care about is, at the end of the day (or after a few too many drinks), basically hollow.