In one corner, there is the arrogantly polite. In the other, the accommodatingly erudite.
The two couples interacting in a tasteful walkup in a gentrified borough of New York City look as though they could be performing a civilized—albeit slightly begrudged—version of the rite of a welcome to the neighborhood party.
There's no bell signaling a spar has started. But shortly into the discourse, the tension among the four is such that all that's missing is the silk shorts, the pretty girls and the velvet ring as sides are drawn, verbal punches are thrown and seemingly upright people are reduced to their most primitive state.
This is "God of Carnage," a Tony award-winning play by Yasmina Reza presented by Company of Fools at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey starting tonight, Feb. 15, through March 3. It's the story of two unlikely couples brought together for what is anticipated to be a purposeful discussion after their 11-year-old sons have gotten into a playground dustup.
Almost immediately, any niceties spoken are spiked with acid as they leave the tongue and spouses turn on spouses as the four spiral into irrational arguments on loaded topics of misogyny, racial prejudice and homophobia.
The New Yorker called it "90 minutes of sustained mayhem."
It was just the antidote to retirement that accomplished director (34 years, 60 productions) Gary C. Hopper was looking for when an opportunity in Virginia fell through and the Company of Fools called.
"It was divine intervention," he said to an audience gathered at the Community Library last week for a cast chat. "It gets me verklempt because I'm doing something I really want to do with a group of dedicated people who are driving me crazy and I'm loving every minute of it."
Hopper paired Keith Moore and Patsy Wygle as the power couple Alan and Annette Raleigh, and John Glenn and Denise Simone as Michael and Veronica Novak, the well-meaning (if you agree with everything Veronica wants) couple.
Moore said he was perfectly cast as the insensitive lawyer, who takes and makes business calls throughout the discussion.
"Having lived and worked in New York for so many years, I happen to know this character very well in all his many scary forms," he explained.
Wygle, in the role of the longsuffering wife and mostly single parent, said she related more to the subject matter, having raised a son to age 10 in the city.
"But if our marriage was anything like the Raleighs', I'm not sure how we'd end up," she joked.
The Novaks benefit from the familiarity of the "everything but the paper marriage" that Glenn and Simone have shared as partners in theater for nearly 30 years.
Simone calls Veronica, an art history buff and writer "the victory bringer."
"She has a clear understanding of how the world should be, according to her. I set the perfect stage and of course nothing goes my way."
Glenn's Michael meanwhile spends a lot of time trying to persuade others to accept Victoria's solutions.
"He's the placator, the one who says, 'Let's just get along and do it the way my wife says it should go,'" Glenn explained.
Staging such an intimate display of sustained and contained rage challenged set designer Joe Lavigne, who spent a lot of time biking around town imagining. He decided his goal was to interpret the visual metaphor of a "game of four square on the playground" into a space that allows the characters room to digress and regroup while providing clues to their natures.
Hopper said all involved have nailed their jobs.
"You're laughing one minute, going 'ahhh' the next, and you are taken on this wild ride without leaving the living room."
Tickets: By phone, 578-9122 or from www.companyoffools.org, $30 for adults,
$20 for seniors and $10 for students.
"Pay What You Feel Preview": Tonight, Feb. 15, at 7 p.m.
"Educators Night": Thursday Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. and Friday, Feb. 17, at 8 p.m.
"Girls Night Out": Saturday, Feb. 18, at 8 p.m.
"Ten for $10": Front-row seats available for $10 each one hour prior to performance.