Whether this particular work is the best use of talent, however, is another question.
The play concerns two upper-middle-class couples in Brooklyn, N.Y., whose 11-year-old sons were involved in a playground altercation. Benjamin Raleigh whacked Henry Novak with a stick, knocking out two teeth. Their parents have gathered at the Novaks’ apartment to work things out.
At first, Veronica and Michael Novak (Lilli Bassett and Mike Waugh) seem like reasonable people. She’s the author of two books on Africa and works part-time at an art-history bookshop; he’s a wholesaler in domestic goods (frying pans, bathroom faucets).
Annette and Alan Raleigh (Mona Campbell and Chad Alan Baker) also seem reasonable. She works in wealth management; he’s a corporate lawyer.
But soon, it becomes the Peloponnesian War in a teapot. The four characters’ allegiances constantly shift. Sometimes, the Novaks team up against the Raleighs. Next moment, it’s the men against the women. The superegos give way, and the characters become all id.
And that’s before they break out the fancy rum.
The actors do fine jobs in challenging roles. Except for a few moments, all four remain onstage throughout the show. Campbell can roll her eyes and stare daggers with the best of them. The always-reliable Waugh’s pliant face flashes a salesman’s smile, becomes perplexed and hangdog, and finally falls into an almost catatonic stupor.
Bassett seizes the role of Veronica like a pit bull and acts it within an inch of its life. But one wonders if she’s miscast here. It would be interesting to see this play with her and Campbell switching roles.
The play’s reputation precedes it.
Winning the 2009 Tony for best play and other prestigious awards, Carnage is a crowd-pleaser, but reasonable people could disagree about its credibility.
Oh, its characters are people like us, and it’s delicious to see them wallow in absurdity, knowing we would never act that way.
We would never be helicopter parents. We would never lose control and make an ass of ourselves.
We would never engage in petty arguments over whether a particular pastry is a cake or a tart.
Reza has taken a germ of an idea and run with it.
The play includes a widely reported sight gag involving Annette. Clark’s staging is effective, but it would be nice if the scene were — without giving too much away — chunkier. It’s the scene where Annette does something that causes Veronica to wail, “What are we gonna do about the Kokoschka?” The moral: Don’t leave rare books on your coffee table.