Preview: God of Carnage by New Players Theater

Jay Weitz, Columbus Alive

Children's misbehavior sets the plot of Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage" in motion. The 2009 Tony Award winner for best play kicks off New Players Theater's 2012 Studio Season on Thursday.

On the playground earlier in the day, 11-year-old Benjamin Raleigh hit Henry Novak with a stick, breaking two of his teeth and prompting the boys' parents to discuss the incident. They meet in the Novaks' upscale Brooklyn home, described by director Matt Hermes as "a kids-free zone."

"This, of course, becomes ironic as the supposedly enlightened adults regress … into childishness themselves," Hermes said.

Reza - best known for "Art," her earlier dismantling of human pretensions - famously considers her plays to be "funny tragedy" rather than comedy. Although Christopher Hampton's English translations of the French originals tend to play up the comic aspects, Hermes acknowledged Reza's distinction: "We have focused not on playing things either 'comically' or 'tragically,' but rather on making full commitments to these less-than-admirable characters. And out of that commitment flows a whole range of emotional responses, including laughter."

"If we do our job well," Hermes continued, "much of the audience's laughter will come from the gut, from a need to release the tension that is felt from witnessing such horrific behavior."

Hermes credits Reza's "Carnage" with achieving "sort of the gold standard of artistic expression: emotional and cognitive impact. Audiences will ultimately always respond to that sort of artistry."

Columbus Performing Arts Center

March 1-18

549 Franklin Ave., Downtown