"God of Carnage" through a mother's eyes

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Since becoming a mother, I filter nearly everything through a new lens.  On a simple level, I am wistfully nostalgic when I see pregnant women or babies smaller than my own; but more deeply, when I see a report of a young child hurt or missing, my sorrow seems to go someplace more primal, where I am connected to all mothers who have come before me and those who will follow.

When my husband I were last in New York City for a babymoon, Broadway’s “God of Carnage,” frankly, wasn’t on our list.  A story about two sets of parents dealing with a confrontation that occurred between their two sons didn’t entice me.  I was expecting a morality play on the dangers of bullying.
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Instead, “God of Carnage” pulls back the curtain on the claustrophopic “House Beautiful” interiors of upper middle class homes where problems are hidden under coffee table books and freshly cut flower arrangements.  My favorite line of the play, “culture is a comfort” was Veronica’s, an art history bookseller and author of a book on Darfur, who was the mother of the victim.  She fell back on discussing her clafoutis, a French dessert she served her guests, rather than delving into how she really felt about her child’s injuries.  Veronica, and to a lesser extent her husband, Michael, seemed far less concerned with defending their child than with defending the proprieties of civil society.

Our childcare center has a very clever technique for dealing with “incidents” among the children.  Both parents must sign a report when, for example, one child bites another; but they never reveal to the parents of either the perpetrator or the victim, which child was responsible.  This is probably a very good thing; because I am still embarrassed about raising my voice to a lovely little child at our center who pushed my baby out of the way a few weeks ago.  Judging from this little flare up, if I were in Veronica shoes, I’m not sure I could even start from a pleasant place of inviting the parents of a child who had hurt my child over to our house to “make nice.”

Things begin to unravel in “God of Carnage,” when Veronica insists on affixing blame on Alan and Annette’s young son and requesting a formal apology.  Alan and Annette appear somewhat uncomfortable with their son’s behavior but quite unrepentant.  The “boys will be boys” attitude that seems to underlie the entire exchange is palpable.  One wonders whether an incident between two daughters or, more disturbingly, a boy hitting a young girl, would have cast the incident in an entirely different light.  Two sets of wealthy white parents arguing over a fight between their sons seems to be treated more like a squabble on a rugby field than an actionable incident.

In fact, we see what happens when violence among children is papered over.  Michael begins to proudly reveal his own past as a youthful “gang leader;” and we also learn that he has just left his daughter’s beloved hamster on the streets of Cobble Hill to fend for itself.  This made me think of Mitt Romney’s callous treatment of his family dog Seamus (which he placed in a crate on his family car during a lengthy road trip).  The media continues to focus on this episode; because the way in which we treat our pets can be a window into a deeper lack of empathy.

With the undercurrent of the violence in Darfur (Veronica’s cause celebre) and Alan’s mention of being ruled by the God of Carnage, we see larger metaphors of the of the culture of perpetrators and victims – victims seeking truth and reconciliation and perpetrators holding steadfastly to their beliefs while mouthing the words of an apology.  The play asks the question whether an apology can ever carry any weight when it is extracted from the perpetrator rather than resulting from a genuine feeling of remorse.

The cast at Asolo Repertory did a masterful job with the play; and it is definitely worth seeing (for tickets and performance information go to www.asolorep.org).  Additionally, the script itself has so many layers and nuances that a different set of actors may well engender a new interpretation of the meaning of the play itself for me, so I'm really interested to check out the 2011 version of the film "Carnage."  I want to compare Kate Hampton's brilliant Veronica to Jodie Foster (think Clarice Darling in a Brooklyn walk up).

Regardless of how some of the larger metaphors of the play are interpreted, the lesson is clear.  Dealing with our emotions on a raw level is actually far preferable than bottling them up.  The play demonstrates that those emotions will come out one way or another (in this case quite comedically), so it works best to come from a place of openness and honesty when handling the difficult aspects of parenting and raising a moral child.

To read more posts from the author go to:

Bonnie's Blog about Arts, Culture, and Civic Engagement

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