Television heavyweight James Gandolfini, who plays Tony Soprano on the HBO series “The Sopranos,” heads a dazzling cast in Yasmina Reza’s lasted dissection of contemporary social hypocrisy, God of Carnage. The 90 minute biting satire directed with the bold stylized force of a blunt instrument by the gifted Matthew Warchus is a welcome audience pleaser. Reza, the Tony Award winning playwright of Art, took on similar territory over a decade ago in Art, but here she steps up the ante with a lethal dose of hostility that lies just beneath the surface in her portrait of two married couples. Taking a page or two from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” Reza’s gives us a modern day version of “get the guests.” and “humiliate the hosts” that becomes funnier and funnier the more outrageous the couples behave. And when the confrontation between the sparing foursome escalates into loud and ugly the evening is downright hysterical.
Here’s the storyline, which takes place in a big city like New York or Paris. Two apparently educated and successful couples come together at the trendy upscale middle class apartment of Michael and Veronica (Gandolfini and Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden) to discuss the violent outbreak between their 11 year old sons. The son of Alan and Annette (Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis) has bashed the other couple’s son in the mouth with a stick breaking two of the boy’s teeth and exposing a nerve. Neither of the parents knows what the altercation was about or why it turned violent.
Michael is a household’s salesman and his wife Veronica writes obscure art books, while their combatants, Alan is a high powered corporate attorney and his wife Annette is in wealth management. The highlight of the production is the delicious ferocity with which the actors throw themselves into their roles with a wild abandonment that gives many intense surprises. The couples’ seemingly pleasant façade crumbles under the weight of their defended behavior concerning the children’s altercation revealing two unhappily married couples and unlikely alliance are formed in the process. Reza’s play may be as shallow as the warring couples, but the actor’s make the evening an outlandish delight with a bravura display of deplorable behavior.
Director Matthew Warchus won a Tony Award last season taking a similar stylized approach to the old boulevard comedy Boeing Boeing squeezing every ounce of laughter out of the farce. He also helmed the playwright’s superior play Art and is responsible for the fun going on in the current British import The Norman Conquests. Last week he was nominated for the coveted Tony Award as best director of a play for that show and his work on God of Carnage as well. Yes, that is twice in the same category. And the entire cast of God nabbed four Tony nominations for their outstand work under his guidance.
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan’s Papers
God of Carnage is playing on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater, 242 West 45th Street. For tickets call 212-239-6200.