We're on our own in this semicivilized world. Not even spouses are guaranteed confederates.
That's the moral of "God of Carnage," the 2009 Broadway comedy by Yasmina Reza, which earned her a second Tony (after 1998's "Art"). "Carnage" makes its Long Island debut in the new Vanderbilt Carriage House home of Arena Players, following the sale of its longtime East Farmingdale space by founder-director Frederic De Feis.
This visceral comedy, exposing savagery that lurks behind a veneer of bourgeois sophistication, falls somewhere between "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "The Honeymooners" in terms of high and low art. Once the gloves of polite pretense are off, the four combatants embrace brutishness with an alacrity that takes each by surprise, as if glimpsing a Dorian Grayish self-portrait in the mirror.
Bruno, preteen son of Veronica and Michael, has lost two teeth in a schoolyard altercation involving a stick wielded by Ferdinand, son of Annette and Allen. Bruno's parents have invited Ferdinand's to their upscale Queens apartment to discuss the incident. Veronica serves coffee and clafouti. Is it pastry or cake? For a moment, this is the sole point of contention. Annette and Allen agree that their son has transgressed. Should he apologize?
Veronica, played by Linda Ramzell as if her nose is stuck at a condescending angle, is the first to lapse into outrage. But her initial annoyance is directed at Allen, brazenly inconsiderate as dished by Bertrand Emmett. He's an attorney addicted to his cellphone, incessantly taking calls and wandering into the audience in a deft directing touch by De Feis.
Annette, a wallflower as portrayed by Stacey A. Wallace, finds her husband's behavior embarrassing. But she sheds her mousiness shortly after vomiting all over Veronica's coffee-table artbooks. Veronica, who regards herself as a scholar on Africa -- reflected in the masks adorning Fred Sprauer's living-room set -- is writing a book about Darfur. She spews moral superiority with Nobel-laureate expectation.
Mismatched Michael, a domestic hardware wholesaler -- think toilet fixtures -- has heard it all before. Michael Lang's hangdog Michael mostly defers until he chases the coffee with rum. Thereafter, he and Ramzell make convincing adversaries. Lang's fleeting male-camaraderie alliance with Emmett's Allen also resonates. Wallace, however, seems stuck in Annette's subservience -- even after liquoring up her courage.
This "God of Carnage" is no fair fight.
WHAT Long Island premiere of "God of Carnage"
INFO $20-$25; arenaplayers.org, 516-293-0674, 631-854-5579