Whose playground is it anyway?

Despite its intense title, “God of Carnage” is a knee-slapping comedy about parents having a “civil” argument about their children’s playground fight.

The carnal cast, left to right, Tracey Maloney, Bill McCallum, Jennifer Blagen and Chris Carlson.

Image by Photo courtesy Brigitte Norby

The carnal cast, left to right, Tracey Maloney, Bill McCallum, Jennifer Blagen and Chris Carlson.

by Mark Brenden

“God of Carnage”

Directed By: John Miller-Stephany

Starring: Tracey Maloney, Bill McCallum, Jennifer Blagen, Chris Carlson

Written by: Yasmina Rice

Translated by: Christopher Hampton

Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 2nd Street S.

When: Premier, June 3, 7:30 p.m., runs through Aug. 7

Cost: $29-65

Run time: One hour and ten minutes, no intermission

âÄúGod of CarnageâÄù may sound like the title of the newest summer blockbuster starring Nicolas Cage, but the reality is quite the contrary. ItâÄôs a smartly-crafted comedy written by French playwright Yasmina Rice, and it will grace the storied Guthrie Theater this weekend.

The play, a knee-slapping affair about two couples lifting their well-to-do veils in an argument regarding their childrenâÄôs playground tiff, has a sizeable reputation coming into the Guthrie; the French play was Americanized on Broadway in 2009. That Tony-winning production starred Jeff Daniels, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis and James Gandolfini. Roman Polanski is also working on a film adaptation starring John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and Jodie Foster.

Director John Miller-Stephany, who directed last summerâÄôs Guthrie production of âÄúA Streetcar Named Desire,âÄù has a history of directing already-successful productions, but said the pressure of working with famous plays doesnâÄôt bother him.

âÄúIâÄôm not thrown by that at all,âÄù he said. âÄúI have a very strong sense of what I personally want to do. And IâÄôm not threatened by other peopleâÄôs ideas.âÄù

Jennifer Blagen, who stars as Veronica, confessed to googling the play and even watching an interview with the star-studded cast on Charlie Rose.

“It’s a little intimidating,” Blagen said. “It’s a lot to live up to, but at the same time it’s very easy to make our own.”

The play is set in actual time, meaning the events of the play take the hour and ten minutes that the duration allows. Two couples agree to meet and discuss their childrenâÄôs playground fight in a âÄúcivilizedâÄù manner. Soon the conversation gets heated and their constructed politeness crumbles and they regress to the type of playground fighting they are there to discuss.

“The play is about who we are authentically. And do we even know who that is?” Blagen said. “When we’re forced into a situation where we have to come face-to-face with that, how do we respond?”

Miller-Stephany summarized the theme of the play as “civilization is only skin-deep,âÄù although he admitted to not necessarily believing in the playwrightâÄôs worldview. ThereâÄôs a tension between how funny and dark the play can be, and Miller-Stephany says he will pursue both sides, but he expects positive overtones.

“My job as the director is to make the point of the playwright’s theme, so weâÄôre gonna make the point,âÄù he said. âÄúBut I think when you leave the theater you are actually gonna feel very good about all the laughing youâÄôve done.”

In the land of âÄùMinnesota nice,âÄù these passive-aggressive constructs should hit home, something Miller-Stephany took note of when he saw the production on Broadway.

âÄúItâÄôs healthy to laugh at yourself,âÄù he said. âÄúAnd I think audience members who are well adjusted will be able to recognize themselves [in the characters] and will be able to laugh at themselves.âÄù