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'God of Carnage' uncovers the beast below civilization

The <i>God of Carnage</i> cast: Tracey Maloney, Bill McCallum, Jennifer Blagen and Chris Carlson.

The God of Carnage cast: Tracey Maloney, Bill McCallum, Jennifer Blagen and Chris Carlson.

​After seeing God of Carnage on Broadway, Guthrie Theater Associate Artistic Director John Miller-Stephany knew the show would connect with his hometown audience.

"I saw this with affection, but with the phenomenon of 'Minnesota Nice' and the evident passive-aggressive behavior because of it, Minnesotans will totally get where these people are coming from," Miller-Stephany says.

Audiences can see if their values are reflected in the show when it officially opens later this week (it is already running in previews). In the one-act play, two couples meet for what they think will be a measured, adult conversation about a playground fight between their two sons. It ends up being anything but that, with the anger, back biting, and humor rising through until the show's climax.

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The play, written by French playwright Yasmina Reza and translated by Christopher Hampton, is also extremely funny. "I was laughing until my eyes were watering," Miller-Stephany says.

Reza rose to fame with Art, another one-act piece which delved into the world of modern art and appreciation. "I think God of Carnage is better," Miller-Stephany says. "It happens in real time and is just one scene. There really is craftsmanship there. Contemporary playwrights have been extremely affected by TV and film writing, where a scene could run for a page and a half. Here, she is able to extend the art over a longer period of time; there is a slow progression until it becomes truly hilarious."

At each previous stop, from France to London to New York, local references have been added to ground the play in that area, but Miller-Stephany has avoided that. "I rejected the idea. Our audiences are really smart and the themes are clearly universal. I don't think it is necessary to spoon-feed relevance."

Miller-Stephany has worked with a quartet of area theater veterans, who came in already having shared stages. That helped the process, he says, and has made the piece a bit of pure joy to work on for the past month.

That joy may not be in the heart of the play. Reza has commented that the play is meant as a tragedy, though Miller-Stephany thinks that the inherent humor of the script means she may have said that to provoke reactions.

"The subject matter and the world view are very dark, but I do take issues with the world view in the play. I left the play feeling good about the world. Thematically, there is a nihilistic, hopeless point of view, but the actual effect on the audience is one of buoyancy. There is something life affirming about laughing," Miller-Stephany says.

God of Carnage runs through August 7 on the Guthrie's McGuire Proscenium Stage.