Community Theatre at Woodbury: It’s in the news every day. There’s a shoot out, a stabbing, a bombing, a massacre somewhere. Why? How natural is violence in our daily lives? Can we control violence? If someone assaults you, do you respond? Four actors tackle these questions as they perform Yazmina Reza’s French play “God of Carnage.” The play staged by the Community Theatre at Woodbury (CTAW) has been translated by Christopher Hampton and deeply excavated and keenly explored by director Sarah Robards. The end result is a performance that will jolt you out of your comfort zones.

It’s not the surprise actions and foul language that will stun audiences, but the unexpected and practically “natural” escalation of violence. No wonder Reza questions if civilization can exist without violence. The play starts when the Raleighs visit the Novak home to iron out a situation that happened when their two sons got into an altercation on the school playground. Benjamin Raleigh hit Henry Novak with a stick and knocked out two of his teeth.

The evening starts off in a strained but politely civilized way with Veronica Novak, author of books on Darfur attempting to create a sense of balance and fellowship among the four adults. However, as soon as she begins to share her report to the insurance company regarding her son, the victim, describing the other boy “armed” with a stick, the Raleighs take issue with the wording. It doesn’t take long in this 90-minute play for things to heat up quickly and before you know it, little sparks begin to fly until they catch the highly flammable personal ego and then all hell breaks out.

This foursome deals with a lot of issues. On the surface it looks like the play may be about parenting or behavioral problems. But there’s more here. Even though the individual personalities bicker over all kinds of issues, the playwright uses all these conventions as an analogy to the greater question of violence. It all looks inane, but is it innate? The audience laughs as Alan Raleigh talks on his cell phone continually. He rudely disrupts meaningful conversation and annoys everyone. His frustrated wife Annette internalizes so much that she ends up vomiting all over the coffee table. The play even gets into a gender tug of war and before you know it the adults are acting worse than the kids.

First it’s couple against couple. Then it’s the men versus the women. Then, it’s each one for him-/herself. The thin layer of polite socializing erupts into an all out war. Annette throws Alan’s cell phone into a bowl of tulips destroying his cell phone. Peace and harmony loving Veronica beats her husband. It’s laugh out loud funny, but not funny at all when you realize what has transpired and what really is at stake.

After everyone’s anger has been released, it’s hard to imagine a peaceful resolution. The moral compass is broken. Alan Raleigh sums it up when he proclaims: “I believe in the god of carnage. He has ruled uninterruptedly since the dawn of time.”

I can’t speak highly enough about his theater. The company selects wonderful plays and the actors are really terrific. Anthony Contento as Alan has worked professionally in television and film and it shows in his confidence and ease on stage. Erika Dorio as Veronica studied theater at Interlochen Arts Academy and also has theater and film experience. Her eyes speak as clearly and convincingly as her voice whether she is sparring with her husband for having tossed a hamster out into the road or contemplating her visitors.

Marnie D’Uva as Annette makes one empathize with her as her character exhibits all the qualities of a sensitive and unappreciated woman. Her timing is impeccable. Tom Mendicino as Michael, Veronica’s spouse not only studied theater at University of Pittsburgh and Villanova, but founded a theater group in Allentown. His expertise lies in his nonchalant responses and reactions.

Once again CTAW offers a first rate production. The set is spot on with African art and enough bohemian trappings to suggest they are as cramped as that hamster might have been in his cage. The costumes are perfect skins for these couples and the lights and sound by Bill and Kris Geddes punctuate this play well. It runs through Jan. 28. Box office: ctaw-ct.org.

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected].