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Childish behavior not just for kids in ‘Carnage’

The cast “God Carnage” Citadel Theatre (back from left) Michael Stock MartHughes Susan Steinmeyer Ellen Cribbs.

The cast of “God of Carnage” at Citadel Theatre (back, from left), Michael Stock and Martin Hughes and Susan Steinmeyer and Ellen Cribbs.

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‘God of Carnage’

Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest

8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 3 p.m. Sundays; Wednesday matinees at 1 p.m. Feb. 20 and March 6. Play runs through March 10

$37.50, with discounts for seniors, students and matinee performances

Visit or call (847) 735-8554


Updated: March 17, 2013 6:42PM

If one could apply a pH test to “God of Carnage,” the acid level would be off the scale.

Yasmina Reza’s savage, absurdist comedy, now on stage at Citadel Theatre with an accomplished cast directed by Wayne Mell, is full of humor. But it’s the humor that leaves the bitter taste of some dark emotional brew that simmers just below the surface of its four characters and boils to the surface in a dramatic fury.

Two sets of parents meet to discuss an incident in which the 11-year-old son of one couple, has, in a playground fight, knocked out two teeth of the son of the other couple.

Now the parents of the injured boy, Michael (Michael Stock) and Veronica (Susan Steinmeyer), seek some sort of redress, or at least an apology to their son. They invite the other parents, Alan (Martin J. Hughes) and Annette (Ellen Cribbs) to their home to work out the details.

Things don’t go well, almost immediately.
Civility falls by the wayside, the mood turns
contentious. Supposedly mature adults revert to bratty, childish behavior. Reactions grow completely out of proportion. Each parent denies, soft-pedals or tries to shift culpability away from their child.

Alan, a brash corporate lawyer, antagonizes everyone when he’s constantly interrupted by pressing cell phone calls during which he vociferously tries to quell a crisis involving a major pharmaceutical client.

Escalating tension sets Alan’s wife Annette on edge and her agitation grows into a panic attack, and she becomes physically ill in a dramatic way.

Michael, a successful wholesaler, maintains a macho posture defending his son. He describes himself as something of a Neanderthal and cites how “might is right” once was the operating principle in earlier civilizations.

Meanwhile, weighing the incident that brought everyone together, a defensive Annette proclaims: “There are wrongs on both sides here.” But Veronica isn’t buying it.

When a bottle of aged rum is introduced, the arguments go farther and farther afield and the behavior becomes irrational. In the end, the only point of agreement seems to be that they have each experienced possibly the worst day of their lives.

There’s a lot of posturing among the characters in “God of Carnage.” It reminds one of a game where no one is willing to concede a single point if it would make them look bad.

At least once during the play each of the four characters seemed most real when they were most vulnerable, like when Alan was suddenly deprived of his precious cell phone — it got tossed in a water-filled vase of flowers — you would have thought it was the end of the world.

Audience members may not like the juvenile behavior they see, but there’s no denying they can identify with its motivations.

Punctuated by witty lines, like when Michael holds out a handful of money to Veronica and quips, “Here, why don’t you buy yourself a sense of humor,” “God of Carnage” is a cracked, very dark glass through which to examine human behavior. And more to the point, our own.

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