Two 11-year-old boys, one of whom hits the other with a stick in a public park. Two sets of parents who meet together to try to smooth things out.
Let the fireworks begin.
"God of Carnage," the new StageWorks Fresno production opening today at the Fresno Art Museum's Bonner Auditorium, was written by French playwright Yasmina Reza. (The original title was "Le Dieu du Carnage.") You might expect it to be, well, decidedly French. Yet in plays such as "Art" and "Life X 3," Reza's work has demonstrated its cross-cultural appeal. She has a knack for finding commonality regardless of setting or nationality.
In other words, this could be two couples from Clovis hashing out a dispute between their kids.
"Absolutely, this story is universal, and I think anyone whether you have a kid or not can relate to it," says Shannon Eizenga, who plays one of the mothers in the play.
Her character, Annette, is decidedly upscale. She has a career in wealth management, while her husband, Alan (Terry Lewis), is an attorney. They seem the kind of couple for whom social niceties and appearances are important.
But "civilized" behavior can feature a dismayingly thin veneer, especially when conflict and alcohol is involved. Never underestimate parents when their children are involved.
The other parents bring their own complexities to the table. Michael (Chris Carsten) is a wholesaler. His wife, Veronica (Shannah Estep) is writing a book about the tragedy in Darfur which for her brings to the forefront issues of justice.
The result: a situation that escalates into some very bad behavior.
"They're a very interestingly matched couple, and that's something you get a sense of as the play unfolds," Eizenga says. "Not only is it an interesting critique on human nature, but it's also a critique on parenting, love and justice. You see these people in very vulnerable positions. The way in which they choose to behave is a little bit controversial."
Overindulgent and overprotective parents ones too involved in their children's lives is a prominent theme in the play. So is bullying.
"I'm sure that with some really deep introspection and reflection, there are a lot of pieces of each of these characters in all of us they're just really exaggerated at moments," she says. "And that's an uncomfortable thing."
Eizenga is making her Fresno stage debut in "Carnage," but she brings an impressive résumé. She grew up near Toronto and attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. After drama school, she worked for several years as a professional actor in Canada at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, then was an actor in Toronto.
But she didn't know if she wanted to pursue performance as a lifelong career path and decided to shift into social services. (She also longed to get away from those long Canadian winters.)
"This is my first foray back into acting is several years, and it's really exciting," she says. "I feel really lucky and blessed for it to be with Joel Abels. When I moved to Fresno and was asking about what's happening in town, and who was doing high-quality work, the name that kept coming up was Joel Abels and StageWorks."
She's also happy to have latched onto this character, even though it's in what she calls a real "mother" of a play.
"My character goes on this crazy roller-coaster, and at the end, I'm totally depleted and exhausted, but it's been a really nice way to come back to acting."
"God of Carnage," through Sept. 22, Fresno Art Museum, 2233 N. First St. stageworksfresno.com, (559) 289-6622. $16.50-$21.50.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6373, firstname.lastname@example.org and @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.