God of Carnage: play without subtext

Last night I went to the Huntington Theater to see Yasmin Reza's God of Carnage (which is currently also a movie, Carnage). It was better than most Huntington productions, though given my experience with them, that's setting the bar pretty low.

The play was translated from the original French by Christopher Hampton. He must also have had to translate a lot of cultural referents from the 14th Arrondissement (or wherever) to Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. The housing supply owner Mike Novak reads a bit too generically working class--self-satisfied upper middle class people tend to be easier to port from one cultural operating system to another, while strivers still have culturally specific rough edges.

You probably know the story. One 11-year-old boy hit another one with a stick, breaking a couple of teeth. The two pairs of parents come together to reasonably discuss the situation, only to fall apart into almost hostility, drunkenness, and self-pity.

It's pretty fun, and has the advantage of being really short. But it says nothing other than what is there. There is essentially no subtext. No character is anything other than what he or she says there on stage. There is no sense of anything deeper, any history, any unarticulated feelings. At one point they flirt with wondering what the real story of the boys' relationship might be, a potentially deeper issue, but quickly drop it in favor of squabbling over cell phones, tulips, and Darfur.

Movies can get away with that kind of thing, because they have so many other ways of distracting you from lack of underlying content. Plays can't. If those real people in front of you don't bleed out past the edges of the stage and the hour or two they are there, they become just people saying lines.

I won't see the movie, so feel free to tell me what that's like.