Two young boys get into a fight at a playground, and the boys' parents meet to resolve the dispute.
The situation seems normal enough.
But in Yasmina Reza's award-winning play "God of Carnage," this parent-to-parent meeting takes a turn.
"The civility quickly devolves into chaos before the play is over," said director Abigail Schumann. "The civil masks come off, and reveal the ugly underside."
In less than 90 minutes, a seemingly simple encounter becomes a tense study in the complexity of human nature and the fragility of social pretense. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Play in 2009, "God of Carnage" closes Panglossian Production's main season with performances from Oct. 28 to Nov. 6.
The play unfolds in real time, as Alan and Annette Raleigh arrive to the living room of Michael and Veronica Novak to discuss their boys' altercation. The living room provides an intimate, familiar backdrop for a situation that, to many, will seem instantly familiar.
"Right at the beginning, it's as if you'd walked into this living room, and you're a part of it," said Schumann, in her second time directing with Panglossian. "(It's) just very immediate, very real. You recognize the people very readily in this situation."
Although parents and couples will strongly relate, "God of Carnage" is not a study on parenting, nor is it less relateable to those who've never parented.
"Even if you don't have kids, I think that you can relate to being uncomfortable around strangers and having to do something that you really don't want to do," said Robert Weathers, who plays Michael Novak.
As the play progresses, the discomfort grows, the tension builds and the situation escalates to near ridiculous heights. "God of Carnage," though, never loses touch with reality.
That's what makes the play's statement so powerful.
"People can see themselves in the characters no matter what walk of life they're in. It's one of those plays that appeals to central aspects of humanity," said cast member Vanessa Jones. "It deals with our basic social discourse, and how easily it falls apart when threatened by small things."
At one point in the play, Veronica Novak, played by Liz Thomas, reaches the point of exasperation. "Behaving well gets you nowhere," she exclaims. "Courtesy is a waste of time. It weakens you. It undermines you."
Each of the four characters reaches that breaking point, Schumann said. They question "normal" human behavior. They toe the line between civil and primal.
"They want to be civil, but this play shows that very childlike behavior is barely beneath the surface for everyone," Jones said.
The plays' truths, however stark, are not delivered without humor. In fact, "God of Carnage" is a comedy, albeit a dark one.
Weathers referenced a quote from the director of the play's Broadway run, saying, "The play that you are watching is not the play that we are performing."
The gravity, the tenseness, of the situation feels very real to the cast members while onstage. And while it's no less palpable to those watching, audiences can step outside of themselves.
"All the characters are trying so hard to be the people they're supposed to be, but what audiences see are these elements of discomfort that they will recognize, and it will be funny to them," Jones said. "It will hit a nerve."
Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.
Want to go?
When: 7:30 p.m., Oct. 28-29 and Nov. 4-5; 2 p.m., Oct. 30 and Nov. 6
Where: Williamsburg Library Theatre, 515 Scotland St.
Tickets: $16/advance, $18/door, $16/Friends of the Library. Visit panglossian.org.