Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

God of Carnage

Desert Rose Playhouse
Review by Rob Spiegel

Poster art courtesy of Desert Rose Playhouse
God of Carnage is a French play by Yasmina Reza. It was translated into English by Christopher Hampton and opened in London in 2008. The Broadway premier was in 2009, starring Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden. All four actors were nominated for Tony Awards, with Harden winning hers. The production also won Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Director of a Play.

The setup for the dark comedy is two couples meeting in one of the couple's apartment. Their eight-year-old sons were involved in a playground altercation that left one of the kids with two broken teeth. The goal of the meeting is to figure out an equitable course forward—to meet as adults to settle the childhood skirmish.

Over the course of the next 90 minutes (without intermission) both couples slowly shift from reasonable adult conversation into barbaric accusations. At first, each couple turns on the other, but as the emotion heats up, they begin to turn on themselves. There are plenty of laughs—especially involving one husband's obsession with his cell phone—but the story is far from a traditional comedy.

God of Carnage contains aspects of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Edward Albee's play is a common go-to reference when couples clash, yet the God of Carnage story lacks Woolf's peculiar ending, which introduces an odd resolution of an almost loving truce. Instead, God of Carnage simply exhausts each of the characters, leaving them without resources that could lead to resolution or even acceptance.

The Desert Rose Playhouse production is directed by Sheila Freed and Michael Montroy, the team who also directed the recent I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. The duo did an excellent job with I Love You, and they reprise that excellence with God of Carnage.

The cast is nearly the same in both plays. As Freed noted during the introduction of the play, Desert Rose has virtually become a repertory theater, with Karen Byers, Christopher Chase, and Bryan Durden appearing in nearly every production of the past couple years. And what a terrific trio of actors to call on again and again. Byers and Chase have been paired as lovers or spouses so often, it's probably starting to seem real to them.

In productions that include Poison, Constellations, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, these actors have delivered brilliantly. We've seen them offer high drama, comedy, and musical fare with panache and versatility. The three of them bring their top game to God of Carnage. They're joined by Tasha Irvin in her first appearance at the Desert Rose. She matches these pros blow for blow.

Freed and Montroy keep the pace tight and the tension fierce. The set by Freed is a simple apartment with two loveseats at the center, just enough to frame the action. Evelyn Coffing—also a veteran of Desert Rose productions—carries the stage manager duties. All of it works just fine.

The only difficulty I had with the entire production is with the script. Through all the banter and the rising animosity, we don't find anything close to compassion or understanding with any of these brutal characters. The humor offers no help, as the characters just seem more pathetic in their laughable foibles. Even so, hats off to the direction, the production, and especially to these extraordinary performances.

God of Carnage, through April 21, 2019, at Desert Rose Playhouse, 6921 Montgomery Blvd NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $20 for students, seniors, and ATC members. For reservations, visit