“God of Carnage” at Goodman Shatters the Walls

After its tear through Europe, Broadway and the Tony Awards, “God of Carnage” has stormed Chicago as a bitterly funny critique of our best intentions.

“Carnage” tells the story of two sets of parents trying to deal amicably with the bullying occurring between their sons. Veronica and Michael Novak invite Annette and Alan Raleigh to their Brooklyn home to discuss the matter with enlightened civility, but the surfaces of this well-apportioned, upper middle class living room soon start to crack as tempers flare, stomachs burble and rum flows.

How does one host the parents of the kid who’s knocked out two of your son’s teeth? Why, with fresh tulips, homemade cake and a helping of do-gooder condescension, according to holier than thou Veronica (Mary Beth Fisher), whose Chico’s kind of day garb is as gray as her home décor. Her salesman husband Michael (Keith Kupferer) wants to rise above but can’t quite hide the helpless-man rage that bubbles underneath. And buttoned-up Annette (Beth Lacke), armored in her power suit, loses more than her cool as her defenses as a mother and wife crumble.

Yes, you know these people immediately, but nobody’s really the bad guy. Even with a lawyer in the room—that would be Alan (David Pasquesi), who has codependency issues with cynicism and his cell phone—there’s not much talk of lawsuits or school expulsion. But the sensitive nature of parenting exposes the neuroses of these deftly drawn and acted characters, who each show the ability to destroy the world around them, and also stitch it up again as best they can.

At 70 minutes, “Carnage” is taut and crisp with nary a word wasted. Yasmina Reza’s (“Art”) clever script balances acerbic dialogue with some truly surprising and wicked physical comedy, as this quartet weaves between grownup idealism and tantrums that would put their boys to shame.

“Our son is a savage,” Alan says matter-of-factly at one point. “Carnage” tells us there’s more than a bit of savage in us all, just dying to get out and rip those tulips to shreds.

“God of Carnage” is directed by Rick Snyder and will play at the Goodman Theatre through April 17th. For tickets, call the box office at 312.443.3800 or visit goodmantheater.org.