Thursday, June 4, 2009

Uncivil Disobedience


“Children consume and fracture our lives. Children drag us towards disaster, it’s unavoidable.” Michael says in Yasmina Reza’s brilliant new comedy. “Brilliant” is a word I despise, repeated ad nauseum and usually applied to all the wrong things, but there is no other word to describe “God of Carnage”. It was unequivocally the best play I have seen all season, and, to be perfectly blunt, the first play since Kushner’s “Angels in America” that has restored my faith in the theatre. Acerbic, thought provoking, and hilarious, it is all that the theatre is meant to be, and comfortably capitulates to the New York sensibility Broadway should provide.

Originally a French play, produced numerous times in Europe (including one in London starring Janet McTeer and Ralph Fiennes), “Le Dieu de Carnage” as it is called, was translated by Christopher Hampton into English. It tells the story of two bourgeoisie couples who arrange to have a civil meeting after one of their children assaults the other with a stick on the playground. The slick set design offers a cold, modern space suspended in emotion. Bright red walls that stretch up into the sky are revealed when a large white curtain decorated with a child’s crayon-rendered family portrait rises. An oblique, stone wall is in the background. The stage is flanked by two perfect crystal vases filled with white tulips (from the Korean Deli up the street, direct from Holland, $40 for Fifty). Lead by an all-star cast (Marcia Gay Harden, James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis) the material is never allowed to rest. Discussions turn to arguments, arguments turn to violence, violence turns to despair all in one tense, Albeesque afternoon.

An obvious devolution occurs with each character (although perhaps not as much with Alan, who is a prick to begin with) and their carefully manicured facades crumble when confronted with the realities of existence. Ms. Harden and Mr. Gandolfini in particular deftly transform on stage as the play progresses. Matthew Warchus’s direction is absolutely splendid; the blocking is obviously very calculated and deliberate but appears effortless, and the special effects (namely projectile vomiting on the part of Ms. Davis, another nod to Albee) are well handled and natural.

As Ms. Reza’s words entertain, they simultaneously subvert societal mores, the role of parents, and the relationships we all have. Her play is fabulous. That’s all. Nothing more.

By Yasmina Reza; translated by Christopher Hampton; directed by Matthew Warchus; sets and costumes by Mark Thompson; lighting by Hugh Vanstone; music by Gary Yershon; sound by Simon Baker/Christopher Cronin; production stage manager, Jill Cordle; production manager, Aurora Productions; general manager, STP/David Turner. Presented by Robert Fox, David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers, Stuart Thompson, the Shubert Organization, Scott Rudin, Jon B. Platt and the Weinstein Company. At the Bernard Jacobs Theater, 242 West 45th Street, Manhattan; (212) 239-6200. Through July 19. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

WITH: Jeff Daniels (Alan), Hope Davis (Annette), James Gandolfini (Michael) and Marcia Gay Harden (Veronica).

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