Praise 'God of Carnage'
After wildly successful runs both in London's West End and on Broadway, where it won the 2009 Tony Award for Best Play, God of Carnage opened last night at Center Theatre Group's Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in a theatrical tour-de-force that is sure to be the talk of the town.
It's rare that Los Angeles audiences get to see the original cast of a Broadway production, but if there was ever one to wait for, this was it. Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden all reprise their Tony nominated performances (Harden actually won the 2009 Best Actress Award), and seeing the four spar on stage is like watching world class boxers duking it out in a Championship Prize fight. At first, they gracefully dance around each other, gently testing and teasing their opponent to find their weak spots, and then, quickly, without warning, leap into battle with a carefully measured body blow that draws blood.
The plot is simple and straightforward. Henry, the son of Michael and Veronica (Gandolfini and Harden) had two teeth knocked out by Benjamin, the son of Alan and Annette (Daniels and Davis), in an altercation at a local park. So the parents decide to sit down, civilly and respectfully, to discuss and decide on how to best handle the matter.
Yasmina Reza's play, translated by Christopher Hampton, is artful in its composition. What starts outs as a civil social call over an unfortunate and somewhat uncomfortable situation with the children, gently unfolds into a greater conversation of social contracts and civilization. What quickly becomes evident, however, is that each of the four has a somewhat different outlook on the event, and life for that matter, which quickly begins to disintegrate the social norms, often to hilarious effect. All it takes is a simple disagreement over the choice of a word for the parties to quickly become defensive, argumentative and ultimately completely irrational. All the while, with each traded barb, the play exposes the inadequacies and individual fractures in each couple's relationship.
Reza's play is chuck full of bite, bitterness and bile, carefully mined by Director Matthew Warchus for ultimate comic effect, who keeps the evening running like a runaway freight train barreling down the rails, not sure if it will ever be able to be stopped safely. Reza and Warchus deftly keep everyone unsettled, with a constant shift in balance among the characters, ultimately turning Mark Thompson's fashionable Brooklyn loft set into a cage match full of wounded animals ready to verbally attack at the slightest provocation. The actors are a perfect quartet at the top of their game, and have you hanging on the edge of your seat, at times gasping, cringing, or even laughing uncomfortably, unsure as to what will happen next.
In the end, after all the masks have been stripped away, the manners – if there ever were any – are forgotten and the devastation has piled up onstage like a freeway accident you can't help but look at. God of Carnage is a true voyeuristic crowd pleaser that allows us all to walk away thanking god we're not at all like those people, but knowing deep down that we're all just one bad day away from reacting in exactly the same way.
God of Carnage is playing now through May 29, 2011 at the Ahmanson Theatre (part of the Center Theater Group), 135 N Grand Ave. in downtown Los Angeles. Performances are Tuesday through Friday @ 8p, Saturdays @ 2p and 8p, and Sundays @ 1 and 6:30p. Additionally, there is a 2p matinee performance on Thursday, May 12, but no 6:30p performance on Sunday, May 15, 2011. Tickets are available in person at the Center Theater Group box office, by phone at 213.972.4400 (TDD @ 213.680.4017) or online at http://www.centertheatergroup.com.