God of Carnage, the hit play by Yasmina Reza currently running at the Ahmanson Theatre, features the original Broadway cast of Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden. Matthew Warchus is the director. The play is translated from the original French by the notable playwright Christopher Hampton.
The play is called “a comedy of manners—without the manners.” It’s a solid 90 minutes of rowdy comedy infused with biting dialogue, knock-down-drag-out fighting, and loads of laughs as we see respectable people dissolve into warfare. The play ran 24 previews and 452 regular performances in New York and won Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Director; all four actors were also nominated for Tonys with Marcia Gay Harden winning as Best Actress.
The story involves two parents whose children have been involved in a playground scuffle where one of the kids has a few teeth knocked out. The parents have agreed to get together to have a civilized discussion. One set of parents, those of the boy Benjamin who knocked out the other child’s teeth after being called a snitch, are Alan, a lawyer who never ever gets off his cell phone, and Annette, a wealth management consultant for her husband’s money—a highly strung women who ends up throwing up all over the coffee table.
There are books on the coffee table belonging to Veronica (she’s writing a book about Darfur). Her husband is Michael, a self-made wholesaler with a sick mother. As the evening progresses the couples fall into irrational arguments which cover a variety of subjects including racism, homophobia, misogyny, and the happiness inside the marriage of each participant. Not since Virginia Woolf has there been such a vicous yet funny sequence of events. The combatants are left in tatters by the end, their marriages in ruins, with many hidden animosities revealed.
The play is a rather small piece which never really delves into the various subjects brought up, but it does make the point that underneath all our genteel exteriors lives a “god of carnage,” our primitive self-defensive self.
The acting is first-rate and I felt lucky to be able to see this original cast. Marcia Gay Harden is a tigress when she shows her fangs. Gandolfini doesn’t disappoint as he is allowed to get belligerent, a la Tony Soprano with his guns. Jeff Daniels is the epitome of the self-absorbed businessman, only concerned with his work. Hope Daniels is the picture of the put-upon wife and mother and one doesn’t blame her for vomiting all over the living room.
God Of Carnage will play at the Ahmanson Theatre until May 29.