by Rachel Eisley
Gods of Carnage, now showing at Signature Theater until June 24, frames a garish snapshot of family life in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn as two sets of parents meet to discuss a playground altercation between their sons which left one with broken teeth. Written by Yasmina Reza and directed by Joe Calarco, Gods of Carnage welcomes the audience into a well-articulated set staging the meticulously kept apartment of the injured boy’s parents, an art historian and a home fixtures dealer. The aggressive boy’s parents (a stay-at-home mom and hot-shot liability lawyer) then arrive to discuss the situation, their subsequent negotiations the subject of the play. Their afternoon is fraught with a Murphy’s Law type of dystopia, the couples’ coversations laden with sarcasm, underlying insults and later into the evening, devolving into straight up verbal and physical aggression, despite their best efforts to maintain peace and calm.
Although the acting is ambitiously strong and characters maintain chemistry with one another, Gods of Carnage remains unsettling as a whole. Unexpected physical humor brings variety to the production, but the sophomoric antics of the parents feels hollow and unrealistic. Perhaps the parent’s farcical and overblown misbehavior speaks to real-life parents who have felt like hurling something across the room during such an altercation but have chosen to restrain themselves. But for the audience member without children, the overall message of the play seems to be “get out while you still can!” If the tropes of bitter marital debates and the dilemmas of self-absorbed New York professionals attempting to balance family and work are appealing, then Gods of Carnage will amuse and entertain. However, beware if you’re uninterested in hashing through other people’s dysfunction, for Gods of Carnage will not only plop you in the middle of the choppiest relational and emotional ocean possible, but leave you feeling seasick afterwards.