THEATRE: Yuppies with kids behave badly in God of Carnage

If life has taught us one thing, it is this: If you want to anger someone, all you have to do is accuse them of being passive-aggressive. Want to piss them off even further? Show them you can dish out the “passive-aggressive” label, but can’t take it. This sure-fire method will have you pushing the buttons of even the Dalai Lama himself.

God of Carnage, starting previews at the Citadel Theatre Saturday night, is about two sets of well-heeled parents whose sons have had a fight at school (one knocking the teeth out of the other). They converge to cordially work out how best to deal with the situation. As the discussion wears on, their veneer wears off and the four so-called adults have a yuppie version of a schoolyard brawl.

Citadel director James MacDonald was in the audience when Yasmina Reza’s play hit Broadway for a Tony Award-winning run in 2009 (the play premiered in Paris before moving to London). It was an all-star cast: Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden – “but it didn’t seem like a show full of stars,” says MacDonald, who saw the play with Citadel artistic director Bob Baker. Both agreed they had to do it here. “It just seemed like a really great play. It’s a play that hits theatre audiences right square in their demographic … it’s about middle aged people with kids and relationships. There’s a very good chance to see yourself in these characters. I mean, I see a bit of myself in all of them. The play is also about what lurks beneath the veneer of a polite society.”

The play, translated from its original French by the Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons), and recently made into a feature by Roman Polanski, starring Jodie Foster, is described by MacDonald as “darkly comedic.” It falls into the category of being funny for being true. The Citadel production likewise boasts an all-star (mostly Canadian) cast: Fiona Reid (above), Ric Reid, Ari Cohen and Irene Poole.

MacDonald continues, “We have a lot of things inside of us: Rage, a desire for confrontation, things we suppress. We don’t say a lot of things we would like to say to strangers, our friends, our partners, our children. And we keep these things suppressed – for very good reasons. This play takes these things that are being suppressed and gives them a voice – in a very funny way. There is a passive-aggressive component to the couples, and as the action mounts up ‘passive’ part slowly gets scrubbed away.”

Is God of Carnage a statement from Reza about the futility of conflict resolution, or is it just an amusing play about childish parents?

“It’s both”, said MacDonald, chuckling. “Reza certainly points out that adults who try to meet to deal with conflict between their children have certain amounts of infantile behaviour themselves. Whether are not she is making the point that we should confront or true feelings or suppress them to benefit the feelings of others is a debate worthy of anyone who sees the play.”

Let’s just make sure we keep the debate civil, OK?