Two respectable Parisian couples sit down over clafoutis and espresso to discuss a playground fight between their sons, Bruno and Ferdinand. Sounds pretty innocuous, right? That’s definitely not the case in Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage.” As the title implies, it’s all-out war, resulting in deplorable behavior that would make the worst-behaved children look like angels.

The play is cleverly set in an apartment that is both figuratively and literally an oversized sandbox, complete with sand floors and a boxed-in feeling. Beyond the confines of the apartment, the set opens up into a three-dimensional scene that includes real trees and a detailed backdrop of the 14th arrondissement in Paris.

Are we all just children, duking it out in the sandbox, on the playground that is our lives? Are we so wrapped up in our own narrow worlds that we are unable to see the wide open spaces beyond? With “God of Carnage,” Reza provides a scathingly witty commentary on adult society and the masks we hide behind on a daily basis.

These falsities were entertainingly stripped away Friday with Portland Stage’s opening night performance. What began as a seemingly civil conversation between Ferdinand’s parents, Alain (Scott Barrow) and Annette (Amy Bodnar) Reille, and Bruno’s parents, Michel (Kevin Cutts) and Veronique (Kate Udall) Vallon, rapidly deteriorated into something far more interesting: the ugly truth behind the sugar-coated pleasantries.

The one-act, 90-minute production flew by at high velocity. Alliances were made and broken with the drop of an insult, and etiquette fell by the wayside as the character’s true colors began to seep out. And it wasn’t just amicable relations between the two sets of parents that took a hit: The marriages also crashed and burned.

There were a few sight gags and physical altercations mixed in to heighten the laughter, but overall it was a verbal beat-down of witty one-liners and intellectually based barbs. The audience ate it up, knowing full well that they, or someone they know, could be any of the four characters. After all, who doesn’t know the cellphone addict with no regard for others, the neurotic perfectionist who has to have it their way, the Neanderthal man hiding behind sophistication, or the sweet-acting hypocrite with pent-up hostility.

The four cast members were clearly having fun misbehaving as they deconstructed the lives of their characters, turning a high-powered lawyer, a wealth manager, an art lover/writer and the manager of a wholesale company into scrabbling children. And that was before the rum started to flow!

Reza’s sharp-edged commentary deftly rolled off the actors’ tongues, humorously filleting social expectations, all the while making the audience question their own sensibilities and social obligations.

Everyone has a breaking point. Do you know what yours is?

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at: [email protected]