The French tradition of taking a satiric look at contemporary society goes back at least as far as Moliere. Yasmina Reza, author of God of Carnage, carries that tradition into the 21st century with flair.
The play takes place in a modern, chic, somewhat austerely furnished living room. Two couples are having a meeting because one of their sons hit the others' boy in the mouth with a stick, knocking out a couple of teeth. The parents are struggling to arrive at a civilized resolution about the violence.
Director Ricky Graham puts his remarkable cast through their paces deftly. Michael (John "Spud" McConnell) and Veronica (Maureen Brennan) are the owners of the apartment and the parents of Henry, the injured boy. Annette (Lara Grice) and Alan (Gary Rucker) are the parents of Benjamin, the assailant.
Part of the fun arises from the very different personalities of the two couples. Everyone is middle class, but Michael and Veronica seem to live more modestly than Alan and Annette. Michael sells home furnishings and Alan is a lawyer who represents a pharmaceutical company. Alan wears a three-piece suit and — using a cellphone earpiece — he constantly interrupts the parents' meeting to talk to his clients, broadcasting for everyone present. Some amusing chaos results from outbursts, which seem part of the conversation but are really directed at the phone call about one of the company's drugs that may have harmful side-effects.
When the house phone rings, it's Michael's ailing mother. She's taking the very medicine in question and Michael shouts, "I forbid you to take it!"
Veronica reads a statement about the boys' conflict that the two sets of parents are supposed to sign. It reads that Benjamin was armed with a stick. Alan objects to the word "armed," and the parents compromise with "furnished." Obviously, this is not going to be simple.
Will the aggressor child apologize? Should he? Was he provoked? Is he a "maniac"? Is the victim a "snitch"?
Eventually, the parental summit becomes a free-for-all, and it's surprising none of the parents get clouted with a stick. Much of the fun comes from odd detours in the plot, like the effects of leftover clafoutis on Annette's nervous stomach. Last but not least, Michael evicted Nibbles, his children's pet hamster, because he hates rodents.
This may all sound a long way from Moliere. But there's a passage in Moliere in which a pompous middle-class gent brags that he can speak "prose" impromptu. With a change of clothes, he would fit right in with Reza's hilarious squabblers. — Dalt Wonk
Thru. Oct. 9
God of Carnage
8 p.m. Thu.-Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun.
Southern Rep, The Shops at Canal Place, 365 Canal St., third floor, 522-6545; www.southernrep.com