For a play with such an apocalyptic title, the setting and stakes of God of Carnage are mundane: Two couples, the Raleighs and the Novaks, meet in the Cobble Hill apartment of the latter, to discuss a playground altercation between their sons. This summit starts with strained civility but devolves into an indulgent festival of expression. Aided (or impaired, I suppose) by what we’re told is a particularly good rum, the quartet careen from unctuous attempts at diplomacy to truculent outbursts and ad hominem attacks. But for all the conversational combativeness, there is little real carnage: the only casualties being a cell phone and a bouquet of tulips. (An out-of-print art book is injured, but expected to recover.)
If it sounds slight, it is. Yasmina Reza’s play brushes against some basic, broad philosophical questions—well, one, really: Is savagery man’s natural state?—in an environment so rarefied as to obviate the question. A lawyer and his wife sharing liquor and dessert with a successful home-furnishing entrepreneur and his armchair-activist/author wife—however pointed the put-downs—is the stuff of sitcoms.
Well, then, is God of Carnage funny?