God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza (translated by Christopher Hampton)
I started reading stage plays to study dialogue and get more familiar with the conventions of writing for the stage. They’re a different kind of animal that forces a simplicity onto a work and exposes its narrative skeleton. Reading a play, it becomes clear how visually evocative good dialogue can be—how much it can convey about a character’s mood and underlying intent with subtle gestures. This stageplay was recommended by the Amazon algorithm after I read The Pillowman.
God of Carnage is the story of two suburban couples. Neighbors. One couple is visiting the other to apologize and work out a dispute their sons had. The boy of the visiting couple hit the other boy in the mouth and damaged his teeth.
The beauty of this play is watching the four characters struggle to maintain the decorum required of them by polite society while underlying forces push and pull them. Reza sets up a kind of ecosystem of tension that manipulates the characters, moving them toward and away from one another, sometimes nearly off the rails. They teeter at the edge of absurdity, but in a way that makes you think, “Yeah, I can see how they got there. How I could get there.” It is a delicate dance, and the shifting allegiances is a delight to watch. Sometimes it is couple vs. couple, sometimes the men vs. the women, sometimes small alliances form between unlikely allies. All through very controlled, subtle shifts in the dialogue. As the story unfolds and we see glimpses of the desperation of each character, there is a looming sense that any of them could go off if their buttons are pushed in the right sequence.
This psychological study is interesting for these undercurrents. The plot is simple and doesn’t drive to a big finale, but the ride is fun nonetheless.