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God of Carnage Is Dark, Funny Mayhem

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The Setup: In Yasmina Reza's latest Tony winner for Best Play (artful Art was the last, also translated from the French by Christopher Hampton), she asks the question, how civilized are we? The answer we get is, not very. It doesn't take long at all -- a brisk 90 minutes -- for the best laid plans to go astray in breathlessly fresh and hilarious ways.

The Execution: By the time chic and sleek Annette announces she feels sick, after eating Veronica's much-vaunted apple and pear clafouti, and then hurls all over Michael and Veronica's white-on-white home, including Veronica's prized art books, the jokes have been adroitly set and the laughs occur non-stop.

The two classy couples may think they have life under control, but just wait. Before they realize it, even as they try to stop it, the ancestral jungle impulses take over. Loyalties shift, words cut deep, and the free flow of expensive rum lubricates the proceedings and brings them all down past primal level. And it's their children who have initiated the unintentional mayhem. Annette and Alan's son has knocked out two of the teeth of Veronica and Michael's son in a schoolyard brawl, so the four cool and sophisticated parents have arranged a meeting to calmly talk it out. In a deliciously out-of-control spiral, the four rapidly descend into the funniest heart of darkness as they proceed to knock the stuffing out of each other. Insecurity, prejudice, smugness, male pride, female intuition -- all get bashed, and nothing will save them except, by the end, physical exhaustion. This co-production by the Alley and Seattle Repertory Theatre is the most fun to be had at the theater in a long time, with a sterling cast and whiplash direction by Wilson Milam. From the bright tulips and fish tank, down to the animal-skin rugs and jungle gym staircase, Eugene Lee's set design is the perfect look as these four misadventurers hack their way through each other.

The Verdict: The intrepid quartet, all veterans from the Seattle company, could not be better: Hans Altwies, Amy Thone, Denis Arndt and Bhama Roget. They, along with Milam and Reza, are invited back anytime -- once they catch their breath.

Through January 30. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 713-228-8421.

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