I will admit that God of Carnage, a new play by French playwright, Yasmina Reza with an English translation by Christopher Hampton is funny. Ferociously funny. What could not be funny about two couples trying to amicably settle a dispute between their eleven year old sons which resulted in Henry having two teeth knocked out by Benjamin and having all four parents slowly, with the help of some aged rum, lose all inhibitions and self respect, tapping into their inner Neanderthal feelings – which erupt like Vesuvius – feelings that have been festering all along, but never voiced until now. Feelings that have been dormant for perhaps the eleven years since the birth of said sons or perhaps the day they wed. For better or for worse. This is “the worse” and we get to laugh hysterically at them airing their dirty laundry in public for our amusement. Poor Henry and Benjamin.
The situation is inherently outrageous and leads to all sorts of farcical shenanigans acted out by an excellent cast of farceurs led on by the crisp and antic direction of Matthew Warchus.
Alan (Jeff Daniels) the I’m all business lawyer for a pharmaceutical company who is permanently attached to his cell phone – taking calls whenever without the least respect for anyone else in the room. His calm for the moment “wealth management” wife Annette (Hope Davis) who after puking over some very expensive coffee table art books, suddenly perks up and is ready for the battle. Michael (James Gandolfini) a wholesaler of doorknobs and frying pans and other household articles (it must be lucrative considering the living room layout) who has just released a pet hamster out into the wild and his spouse Veronica (Marcia Gay Harden) who politely starts to lose her cool until she is tackling her husband and throwing those throw pillows at her guests, all manners cast aside.
A better foursome you wouldn’t find in any boxing ring. Or bull fight arena. Or jungle, where the savages roam. From the opening music you are hit over the head with where the evening is headed. No subtlety here. Then the lights come up on a blood red living room. Walls and carpet ready for the kill. A door to the outside world that is never opened. After a while the guests start to leave but we know they won’t because then there would be no more conflict, no more laughter, no more play. So in true Colombo fashion they retreat only to return for more backstabbing and games in which husband and wife change allegiances, more than once. Interrupted by the many phone calls of Michael’s ill mother – who just happens to be taking a drug that is manufactured by the company that the lawyer, Alan, represents. It’s all very pat, very manipulative, and very very funny.
But it ends on a false note. It’s inconclusive. There is another phone call. Unfortunately I cannot report what that call was about. I could not hear what Veronica was saying (from the ninth row center) or to whom – I think it was Henry’s sister (She is briefly mentioned early on). After all the angst and screaming most of the evening, Marcia Gay Harden suddenly retreats to whispering and whimpering, leaving us with a bad taste in our mouths after all the champagne bubbles that have preceded.
At the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre www.GodOfCarnage.com