Friday, June 05, 2009

Oh Lord - God of Carnage - Play Review

God of Carnage - Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre - Broadway, New York, NY - *** (out of 5)
Written by Yasmina Reza, Translated by Christopher Hampton, Directed by Matthew Warchus
Runs until November 15 2009 (with a hiatus from July 28th - Sept. 7)

Four stars, as four adults, who are two couples, with one son each, who fought each other, and now they must resolve the issue. GO.

That's basically the premise of the play as the adults try to handle things in a grown up fashion as they discuss their sons and slowly devolve into the children they are trying to protect. It's a brilliantly simple premise with immense possibilities for pointed humour, satire, and social commentary, but much like Art, I always feel Yasmina Reza (or via Christopher Hampton's translation) doesn't ever live up to the potential and manages to squeak through with a mildly amusing comedy that never takes the issues to its full potential. And with God of Carnage being an intermissionless 90 min., it's a fast romp through the paces and wonderfully entertaining, but it never gets quite deep enough for me to care, where a second act could have delved even further into the darkness behind the humour.

Luckily, Matthew Warchus is here to save the day. The British director is becoming a master at turning old and stodgy plays and making them fresh and vibrant again. Last year he turned the swinging swing-door comedy Boeing Boeing into a Broadway hit. This year, along with this show, he brought The Norman Conquests back to Broadway, and turned what could have been a gimmicky British sitcom into a speedy 7 hour deeply satisfying theatrical victory.

And here, Warchus has a superb star powered cast to wring every laugh and every dramatic moment out of an unsubtle script. The four Tony nominated actors, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis, Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini play the two sets of parents (with Harden and Gandolfini paired against the slightly more prissy and whitebread Davis and Daniels). But don't let family lines fool you. Lines are dividing in multiple ways through this first meeting of the parents and it's fun to watch the sides keep changing amongst the foursome as each character slowly disintegrates to reveal their true selves (or in Daniels case, vice versa).

You can tell the four actors are having a ball running around a beautifully simplistic red set with a stone walled backdrop. They get to pretend to act like adults to discuss adult things, they get to spew the stuff we would never say out loud, and they get to throw things around the apartment like a petulant child.

High art this is not, but the cast and direction makes it feel that way. Maybe it got lost in translation since I could totally picture this done in its original french as part French farce and part french social commentary. Here, the plot twists are laid a bit more obviously and the structure and moments that set things in motion seem glaringly obvious and structured when it should have felt more organic in all its dissolvement.

Marcia Gay Harden has been getting all the praise for her masterful turn as Veronica and she gets the meatiest part of them all, including getting to beat up Tony Soprano. She manages to keep what could have been a shrill character in check, and holds Veronica back as an intellect breaking apart at the seems.

While Marcia gets all the attention, Hope Davis plays the more serene and prissy mother Anntette but she gets to gradually swing a larger personality arc as things don't fall into place according to her plan (including a stomach problem that's quite impressive on the special effects front).

Jeff Daniels chews it up as the bad guy here, a father who thinks his business is far more important than anything else, and tells it like it is because he has no time to waste, but maybe it's because I've always sympathized with Daniels the actor in the movies he's in, but it was the sole reason I had any sympathy for his character Alan. If it weren't for Daniels natural charms, the character was written so against my taste, that despite a turning point, it wasn't enough for me to care.

James Gandolfini is amusing to watch as he holds back to let his wife Veronica do all the talking. But as the meeting wears on, Gandolfini's MIchael starts showing his true gut.

While this play could certainly deal with a change of actors (I would have loved to see janet McTeer and Ralph Fiennes do this when they performed it in London last year), the current cast, under Warchus' tight direction, manages to lift a mildly amusing play into an entertaining, if not completely enthralling or moving theatrical romp. Much like Boeing Boeing (also originally a French play), it feels like a classy Eurotrash sitcom done at its finest.

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Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

I have the London production three out of four stars. I think you're very much on the money.

Amelliah said...

Having read positive reviews, i just can't wait to see God of Carnage..i last saw Matthew Warchus' The Norman Conquests trilogy, it was awesome and now i'm hoping that his this presentation is gonna be as good as the previous one. If you too haven't seen God of Carnage as yet, plan it out now. Grab your tickets & avail discount with promo code AMY today!