A pair of parents sit down for a civilized chat about their son’s clash on a playground that ended with one boy losing one tooth, maybe two.
The adults don’t behave any better than the children did and end up stomping their feet, throwing flowers, drowning a cellphone, yelling at each other, crying and, literally, getting sick.
It doesn’t sound like much fun, but Penobscot Theatre Company’s production of “God of Carnage” entertains and sends theatergoers out the door wondering if, in the same circumstances, they themselves could behave like grown-ups.
The 80-minute play was written by French playwright Yasmina Reza and translated into English by Christopher Hampton. It was produced on Broadway in 2009 and won a Tony Award for best play.
Directed by Kappy Kilburn, who helmed “Ink” in 2012 and “Wit” in 2013, “God of Carnage” is a flawless production. All elements of the production — the set, the lighting, the sound, the costumes and the acting — fit together perfectly like a well-made puzzle.
Kilburn and her quartet of actors, including Penobscot Theatre Company’s former artistic director Mark Torres, take the audience on a rollercoaster ride of emotion — both petty and profound. And, like riding those amusement park monsters, the result is wonderfully fun and, sometimes, frightening.
Alan and Annette, played by Torres and Jeri Misler, come to the home of Michael and Veronica, portrayed by Bernard Hope and A.J. Mooney. As the couples discuss the playground incident, alliances shift as quickly and easily as the roller coaster plunges downward after a slow, leisurely climb to the top. The men take sides against the women, one couple is pitted against the other, and, once in a while, someone just gets caught in the crossfire.
The actors create a fine ensemble that tangos smoothly through the Reza’s torrential ups and downs. Every performance is finely tuned and deftly nuanced.
Torres, who has not been in a play since he left Bangor in 2005, gives an annoying depth to Alan. A lawyer tied up in litigation for a pharmaceutical company, he is constantly on his cellphone doing damage control. Torres equally oozes contempt and arrogance but also can be insightfully charming.
Hope makes Michael so lovable, it’s hard to be outraged when it is learned he’s left a pet out on the sidewalk to the elements. The actor parlays Michael’s love for and revulsion of his wife and her causes into some of the play’s most funny and touching moments.
As Annette, Misler wears the “perfect mom” facade like a porcelain mask. When it is removed, the character shatters. Misler handles the play’s crescendo with panache. Theatergoers will want to cheer when Annette gleefully destroys her husband’s cellphone.
Mooney gives Veronica an annoying certainty that masks her vulnerabilities. She turns the character’s efforts at playing hostess inside out to reveal Veronica’s most fatal flaws.
Dan Bilodeau’s unusual set visually puts Michael and Veronica’s apartment on the edge of a playground. Large, colorful metal squares look like windows but bring to mind a jungle gym. Four swings sit just outside the living room where most of the action takes place, waiting for the characters.
Scout Hough’s lighting design, Kevin Koski’s costumes, Brandie Rita’s sound design and the props put together by Meredith Perry augment Bilodeau’s set perfectly and create a harmony onstage that the characters can’t seem to maintain for five minutes.
“God of Carnage” is one of the best productions the Penobscot Theatre Company’s presented since Bari Newport took the reins of the company two years ago. It also is the first play since “Wit” that sends theatergoers out into the night asking questions not just about the characters onstage but about their own lives as well.
“GodofCarnage” will run through March 30, with performances at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 3 p.m. Sundays. For tickets, call 942-3333 or visit penobscottheatre.org.
The Bangor Daily News is a sponsor of the Penobscot Theatre Company.