DC Theatre Scene: GOD OF CARNAGE

“In the end, we’re all just taller children,” croons Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Elizabeth Ziman on her band, Elizabeth & The Catapult’s, aptly title 2009 song, “Taller Children.” This is the lyric that immediately sprang to mind as I watched Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage unspool in front of me at the Keegan Theatre — a finely designed and executed production about the failings of human nature that is occasionally hampered by a somewhat stilted translation of the original text.

Director Shirley Serotsky has a deft hand with keeping her actors moving around the space in a way that feels natural and often hilarious. She also does an excellent job building tension and then releasing it — with such a high-pitched, mannered comedy, the tendency to go too big too soon can be tempting, but Serotsky employs the right amount of restraint to allow the show-stopping moments to truly land. The shifting allegiances laid out in the text are made delightfully physical by the actors’ movements around the set.

Similarly, the actors get high marks for how well they embody their characters. Particularly of note is Susan Marie Rhea, whose physicality telegraphs a woman who’s barely containing all the stress and frustration inside her before she even says a word, so that by the time her explosive relief comes, it’s nearly as welcome as it is off-putting. Vishwas plays Alan in the opposite way — he’s cool as a cucumber and a snakelike charmer who gleefully refers to his own son as a savage and lists Spartacus as his role model. Lolita Marie, as the high-strung, woke Veronica excellently portrays a woman who’s been holding onto a mask of serenity and politeness and may be ready to tear it all down in spectacular fashion.

Even though the play was written more than a decade ago in another country, God of Carnage proves to be a timely and relevant piece of dark comedy that speaks expertly to the present American moment, and Keegan Theatre should be applauded for its thoughtfulness in programming it into this season.