By Liz Dengel, Literary Intern
God of Carnage struck me very differently onstage than it did on paper. When I first read the play, alone at my desk one winter evening, I wasn’t laughing. Instead, I was more than a little disturbed by the characters’ deep unhappiness, their vicious behavior and their ruthless philosophy. But at Monday’s opening night performance, my date and I laughed heartily—along with the rest of the audience. All that pain, anxiety and rage somehow fuels an uproarious evening at Goodman Theatre.
I’ve read that playwright Yasmina Reza has mixed feelings about the laughter that her plays elicit from English-speaking audiences. She told an interviewer from the Guardian, “The way people laugh changes the way you see a play. A very profound play may seem very light. My plays have always been described as comedy but I think they're tragedy. They are funny tragedy, but they are tragedy. Maybe it's a new genre."
When it comes to assigning God of Carnage a genre, the Chicago reviews don’t present a consensus either. The labels they assign run the gamut from “as commercial a comedy as you can imagine” to a “little drama” to a “comedy of ill manners.” One reviewer noted, “Rick Snyder’s crisp direction keeps the audience from wondering what’s so funny about such profound sadness until long after the curtain falls.”
How do we respond to work that doesn’t adhere to a familiar category? And why is this painful text such a comic success?