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Tulip tramplin’: Dallas Theater Center lets the grownups battle in ‘Carnage’

A garish living room fills the Kalita Humphreys stage during the run of Dallas Theater Center’s “God of Carnage” (through June 17).  The aggressively red velour couches and looming African tapestries are enough to inspire belief in the eponymous deity and the set is accentuated by the hostility of the two couples who meet to discuss playground injuries.

The circumstances: Benjamin hit Henry, because Henry called him a name. Annette and Alan are the parents of Benjamin, hoping to extenuate conditions. Veronica and Michael – Henry’s parents – are not quick to forgive. Then again, Annette and Alan are not eager to offer an apology.

What begins as a civilized discussion unwinds into a savage fight in which everyone loses their shit (empathetic cookie-losers beware). The trick of Yazmina Reza’s play (translated from French by Christopher Hampton)  is that it takes place in ostensibly real time. Just 80 minutes long, the characters spend an afternoon together allowing the audience to react and grow unhinged alongside the characters. Sound fun yet?

Under the direction of Joel Ferrell, each character experiences a punctuated journey through the frustration of polite, politically-correct conversation. Chris Hury and Sally Nystuen-Vahle play the offending parents whom Christie Vela and Hassan El-Amin invited into their home.

The tight-lipped Nystuen-Vahle and the charmingly detached Hury (who calls his son a savage) are an intriguing counterpoint to the interracial, “down-to-earth” couple Vela and El-Amin.

If the Dispute Resolution Program at Southern Methodist University is looking for a fully-realized demonstration of communication blunders, “Carnage” is richly laden.

John Arnone’s design overflows with absurdity. The red walls and frosted blue windows behind the aforementioned horror of a couch imply the gaudiness of Dallas, not the play’s setting of New York City. And Thomas Charles LeGalley costumes although suitable for the Africa-obsessed Veronica and overdressed toilet salesman Michael, seem ill-fitting and tawdry for their city-slicking, professional counterparts.

An earlier, more civilized scene from Dallas Theater Center's 'God of Carnage.'

At the end of the fight, when you’ve experienced more-than-enough abusive language and tulip-throwing (that is not an obscure figure of speech), you’ll turn to whichever friend or family member is next to you and be grateful for amicable company.  Early in the play, Veronica claims to believe “in the soothing power of culture.” Ironically, the end of “Carnage” allows its own post-show catharsis. At least you aren’t those people.

After attending a Saturday evening performance, me, my little sister and mother drove a few blocks to unwind at Chocolate Secrets – an adorable Oak Lawn wine, coffee and jazz bar.  No one was harmed in the making of our decaf lattes and chocolates (except the pig in my decadent chocolate covered bacon).