They really do.
The two couples in Yasmina’s Reza’s “God of Carnage” — now in a winning production at Hudson Stage Company in Briarcliff Manor through Nov. 19 — really want to get this right, to settle a little dispute between their sons.
With civility. Over clafouti and espresso.
But the more they talk, the further they get from civilized.
In a highly entertaining and energetic performance, Dan Foster’s four-member cast twists each other’s words and actions into a 90-minute exercise in comic schadenfreude — finding comedy in someone else’s parenting nightmare.
Veronica and Michael Novak (Denise Bessette and Paul Carlin) have invited Annette and Alan Raleigh (Carol Halstead and Doug Ballard) into their home to find out why the Raleigh boy, Benjamin, has hit their Henry with a stick, knocking out two teeth in the process.
Annette thanks Veronica for the invitation, for the reasonable and moderate manner in which the meeting was arranged.
“There’s nothing to be gained from getting stuck down some emotional cul-de-sac,” Veronica coos. “There is still such a thing as the art of co-existence, isn’t there?”
Well, maybe for a few minutes, anyway.
Before long, though, they go way past cul-de-sac to an unmarked dead-end leading to a 100-foot drop: Husband battles wife; wives battle husbands; then it’s three against one; then three against another one; then three against another one. You get the idea.
A slippery slope, this parenting thing in the age of playdates and zero tolerance.
Reza deliciously teases out details of these lives: Alan, forever on his smartphone, is a shark, in constant motion; Michael has a phobia that has led the family’s hamster to a presumed demise in their Brooklyn neighborhood; Veronica considers herself an expert on Africa, having spent the better part of a year studying it; and Annette, well, she’s not exactly feeling too well.
All of this is before they start drinking.
In performance, the professional actors uphold the Hudson Stage tradition of presenting finely wrought characters.
Ballard, who lives in Montrose, delivers a perfectly oily Alan, with a spectacularly evil cackle that goes directly to character, even if Alan would disagree.
As Annette, Halstead will be pushed just so far before she explodes. We see her straining to be restrained, playing against Alan’s brusqueness to put the best possible face on things before enough is enough. It’s really something to see.
As the pugnacious Veronica, Bessette (of Cortlandt Manor) forces the issue, constantly prodding and needling the Raleighs, itching for a fight even as she protests she’s “standing up for civilization.”
As Michael, New Rochelle’s Carlin is funny, likeable and reasonable for longest time, until his prejudices and fears emerge.
Director Foster knows when to put his foot on the gas and when to apply the brake, delivering a thought-provoking and wickedly funny play that is bound to drive a conversation or two.
(Hollywood is preparing a screen version, “Carnage,” to hit theaters in mid-December, starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz. Roman Polanski directs.)
Steven Kemp’s set is upscale, with a white leather sofa and armchair, African masks and two blood-red murals overwashed in black. Amy Clark’s costumes suggest that the Raleighs — he’s a drug-company lawyer, she’s in wealth management — might be a step above the Novaks — he’s sells household goods, she’s a writer.
Whether there’s a class distinction is immaterial, though.
They are similiar in one key respect: They’re involved in the perilous act of parenting, an enterprise that comes without an official owner’s manual.
And they’re making it up as they go along.
“God of Carnage” Woodward Hall Theatre, Pace University, 235 Elm Road, Briarcliff Manor. Weekends through Nov. 19. 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m., Nov. 6, 13 and 19. Q&A follows Nov. 13 performance. $35 general admission; $30 seniors and students. Tickets phone: 877-238-5596. Hudson Stage phone: 914-271-2811. Go to the Hudson Stage website.