Dark Comedy ‘God of Carnage’ Tackles the Unveiling of a Superficial Society

Descending from superficial civility to the basest satire, Backyard Renaissance’s God of Carnage opens the floodgates on disheveled, disfigured drama and who we are behind closed doors when we are forced to reckon with our fears and frustrations.

The four parents sit cordially around a table. Alan is on the phone.

Cast of God of Carnage at Backyard Renaissance. Photo credit Daren Scott.

Written by Yasmina Reza and translated by Christopher Hampton, the dark comedy follows two couples, Annette and Alan Raleigh and Veronica and Michael Novak, as they have a sitdown meeting following a playground skirmish between their two 11 year olds. Bearing carefully controlled politeness, the four navigate a written statement about the event – was Henry “armed” with a stick when he hit Benjamin, or was he “furnishing” one? The four each have their own personalities. Veronica (Jessica John) wears her integrity and superiority as a mother and social justice writer as a badge of honor, while her husband, Michael (MJ Sieber), is a wholesaler who keeps his true, inner self buttoned up. Alan (Francis Gercke) is a pompous lawyer for pharmaceutical executives, while his wife Annette (Keiko Green) maintains a picture perfect home and family and engages in “wealth management.” They are two seemingly happy duos… that is, until blame and judgment begin to surface in this 90-minute no-intermission thrill ride.

Under director Rob Lutfy and associate director Hannah Meade’s tutelage, each of the four actors capitalizes deftly on the more carnal and instinctual darknesses buried within us. One by one, John, Sieber, Gercke, and Green each have their own opportunities to shine in unhinged glory. Alliances shift, carefully constructed facades devolve, moments of tension spiral and knot, the guise of polite society deteriorates, and the laughs received are well earned. 

The mothers have a yelling fight as the fathers observe.

Cast of God of Carnage at Backyard Renaissance. Photo credit Daren Scott.

From a direction perspective, the vision for this production is clear and fruitful. Mirrored hand moments and expressions, quippy line delivery, moments of tense silence, and utter chaos are well leveraged from start to finish, yet the dramatized characters are, while being outrageous, also recognizable. We all know someone whose hand is attached to its cell phone, who can’t be bothered to maintain politeness, who isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade, or who topples from sobriety into a puddle with just a glass or two; those characters deliciously come to life before us on the Tenth Avenue Arts Center stage.

Another highlight is the scenic design. Created by Yi-Chien Lee, the entire show takes place within the Novak home, which is smartly dressed with a bar cart, posh couch and leather seating, decor pieces which include a large vase of yellow tulips, and a large marble table with carefully curated piles of books. The room itself is a large framed cube with brass metal edging, emblematic of a glass box into which the audience is peering. In an elemental call-out to the plight of the domestic pet (an escapee hamster, in this case, for those who know the story) as well as to the playground upon which the predicating assault took place, the floor is padded with dark wood chips which ebb and flow near the corners of the gilded cage. Stretching across the back wall is a large suspended canvas featuring sprawling juvenile crayon and pencil sketches. There is a lot of symbolism in the details, and these are illuminated throughout the production to effective means (just keep an eye on the sculpture on the table, if you’re wondering what I mean).

Annette drinks while the other three parents look defeated.

Cast of God of Carnage at Backyard Renaissance. Photo credit Daren Scott.

Like any production, this iteration of God of Carnage is an amalgamation of creative components. This play includes lighting by Chris Rynne, sound design and fight choreography by George Ye, and costumes by Jessica John Gercke, as well as technical/backstage work by Chad Ryan, Kate Rose Reynolds, Anna Younce, and Liam Sullivan.

Delightful in its degeneration as well as for being a satirical examination of the human condition and the many ways in which we have infinite room to grow, Backyard Renaissance’s presentation of God of Carnage runs at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center through March 25.

View the program.

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Cassiopeia Guthrie

Cassiopeia Guthrie is a journalist, educator, and business consultant based in Southern California. Cassiopeia earned her bachelor's in journalism at San Diego State University, an executive master's in business administration from Quantic School of Business and Technology, and completed a training in photojournalism/storytelling for impact with National Geographic. She boasts 20 years of success in digital content development, project management, curriculum development, and business leadership across the education, media/entertainment, and communications industries, including running a scholastic journalism program as well as a social media/social PR internship program for a branding agency. Cassiopeia has 12 years of experience with nonprofit theatre management and production and is an Aubrey Award winning actress with numerous credits to her name at a variety of San Diego theaters. Cassiopeia's writing has been seen in publications including People Magazine, Broadway World, Vista Press, City Beat, Valley Roadrunner, Escondido Times-Advocate, and others, and she has been seen discussing theatre on local television stations including CBS, NBC, ABC, and KUSI.

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  1. Gus Green on March 12, 2023 at 5:07 pm

    I believe the actor who played Michael Novak is MJ Sieber – not MJ Novak.

    • Cassiopeia Guthrie on March 12, 2023 at 5:24 pm

      You’re correct! Thanks for the comment!

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