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'God of Carnage'

Kids Fight, But the Parents Misbehave

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Marcia Gay Hardin, James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, God of Carnage, Broadway drama

God of Carnage

Photo by Joan Marcus

A playground fight between two boys brings the parents together. It's then we find adults have a much larger playground but just as many fights.

What This Show Is About

The producers of God of Carnage, a new play by French playwright Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton, call it a “comedy of manners without the manners.” It's an apt description. The show is funny, funny, funny, but deadly serious at the same time.

The set up is simple: Veronica and Michael have asked Annette and Alan to their home to discuss a playground altercation between their 11-year-old sons.

At first a tense politeness masks underlying tension between the couples, but once the dam breaks in this living room-turned-playground, every manner of human frailty is revealed as each character comes under pressure to perform, conform or stand up.

What You'll Like About 'God of Carnage'

The performing arts are so collaborative and a let down in any area – writing, performing, directing, design – can sink the whole thing. In God of Carnage, the writing is outstanding and no wonder. Reza's previous play, Art, won Best Play awards in Paris, London and New York. She can write, in fact, it's more like she can weave. The four characters talk to, through and around each other. It's tight, taut, tense and funny. (And mention must be made of Hampton's translation not just from French to English but from French to “American.”)

The performances are outstanding, but that's what you would expect from this line up: James Gandolfini as Michael, a self-made plumbing wholesaler; Marcia Gay Hardin as Veronica, Michael's wife, and an art historian writing a book on Dafur; Hope Daniels, a “wealth manager,” who would like more than her lawyer husband, Alan (Jeff Daniels), can give her since he's apparently in love with his cell phone.

These actors take their characters from civil adults in an uncomfortable but very manageable situation to screaming children in a Lord of the Flies breakdown of the social order.

Invisibly beneath all of this is the direction by Matthew Warchus, who also directed the hit London version. He is the orchestrator of a symphony that must begin softly, build to cacophony and yet never lose its foundational melodies.

He does it admirably.

A Good 90 Minutes

God of Carnage runs 90 minutes with no intermission, and it's a good 90 minutes. It's not a play that will change your life, nor does it try to be. It makes us face facts we all know and all hide: We're phonies, we really don't like a whole lot about a whole lot of people, and even in the broadened horizons of our adult world, it's like a crowded playground where we can't help bumping into one another.

Just so you know, there are intense scenes and language and a pretty graphic expectoration.

Where and When

  • Jacobs Theatre: 242 West 45th Street
  • Previews Start: February 28, 2009
  • Opening: March 22, 2009
  • Closing: July 19, 2009
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