Prior to Carnage, French playwright Reza’s best-known work was the ubiquitous Art (1994), a witty and somewhat smugly urbane comedy centering on a modern painting whose purchase rends asunder a group of male friends. Snyder directed a revival at Steppenwolf two years ago that, though smartly staged and well acted, remained as pale as the white-on-white canvas under contention.
This 2006 piece, a model of efficiently delivered schadenfreude that took home the 2009 Tony Award for its Broadway production, seems better suited to the director who so painstakingly orchestrated the menace and mystery of the dark corporate satire Men of Tortuga. Here Reza sets up a summit between two sets of parents ready to out-moralize one another over a playground scuffle between their 11-year-olds. Snyder and his crack quartet of actors masterfully maneuver among the play’s shifting loyalties and increasingly over-the-top recriminations as the parents slip from surface civility into increasingly childish psychological blows of their own.
Reserved money manager Annette (Lacke) begins on the defensive, speaking for herself and her callous lawyer husband, Alan (Pasquesi), who keeps exiting the conversation to take business calls on his cell. Their boy has knocked out the front teeth of another child, the son of do-gooder Veronica (Fisher), a writer who paves her path with good intentions, and her wholesaler husband, Michael (Kupferer), whose even-keeled facade is the first to show signs of wear.
Reza’s pop-philosophy riffs (like those in Art) aren’t as profound as they want to be, and Christopher Hampton’s English translation (like his for Art) never stops sounding like a translation. Though Hampton amusingly sets the action in gentrified Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and transfers other references to a U.S. milieu, his dialogue sits a bit stiffly in the mouths of these skilled Chicago actors. But this cast is otherwise exquisite—I’d almost be willing to see this production four times, concentrating on a single performance just to be sure I caught every nuanced choice. The imposing, unadorned white walls of Takeshi Kata’s spare set feel like a missed opportunity, but I appreciated the humor in Birgit Rattenborg Wise’s costume designs, which, like Reza’s script, drown these bourgeois characters in shades of gray.