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A CurtainUp Review
God of Carnage

God of Carnage
Americanized —— and with an All-Star Cast

January 28, 2010 update: Beginning March 2, the second cast (Christine Lahti /Veronica, Annie Potts /Annette, Jimmy Smits/Alan and Ken Stott /Michael) will step aside for yet another cast: Tony nominee Dylan Baker as 'Alan, original Broadway cast member and Tony nominee Jeff Daniels as 'Michael, Emmy nominee Lucy Liu (as 'Annette, and Tony winner Janet McTeer (original cast member of West End production ) as 'Veronica, The play has been enough of a hit to bring in a replacement cast: Christine Lahti (Veronica), Annie Potts (Annette) and Jimmy Smits (Alan) and Ken Stott (Michael). This second cast will also be the last. The show will play its final performance on June 27, 2010--- changed to June 6, 2010.
We're here to settle a problem to do with their children, we don't give a damn about their marriage —Annette
Yes, but there's a connection — Alan
There's a connection between Henry having his teeth broken and our marriage?—Veronica
Obviously. Children consume our lives and then destroy them. Children drag us towards disaster, it's unavoidable— Michael
God of Carnate
Jeff Daniels
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
With its arrival on Broadway, God of Carnage written on commission for the Berliner Ensemble in 2006 is well on the way to being another Yasmina Reza global hit. The author herself directed it in Paris, and then turned it over to the team that previously gave her subtext infused modern drawing room comedies legs for English speaking audiences — translator extraordinaire Christopher Hampton and director Matthew Warchus.

With Warchus at the helm and the sort of stellar cast usually assembled to make the most of the Reza's sly and slick dialogue, farcical detours and potent pauses, the London production promptly snagged an Olivier award as best comedy. Now Hampton and Warchus have smartly Americanized the play. Unlike Art and Lifex3 which had American actors playing French characters, the two sets of parents in the Broadway God of Carnage are very much American types. Thus, they are now named Michael and Annette Novak and Alan and Veronica Raleigh and their neighborhood is the upscale Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn. Best of all, the four actors who play them couldn't be better. Watching their very civilized get-together turn into the rambunctious melee that bring out each one's hidden resentments, insecurities and savagery, I found it impossible to pick a favorite.

As Warchus's astute direction positions the actors so that the spotlight moves seamlessly from one to the other, each actor is a star, whether in a solo turn or as an active or silent member of the ensemble. And so, I was bowled over by Alan's (Jeff Daniels) incredible timing of talking to his wife or hosts and on his never off cellphone. I was equally impressed by the way his wife Annette's (Hope Davis), a more brittle counterpart to Honey in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, managed to retain a certain ladylike, business executive decorum as she vomits all over her host's red carpet and art book covered coffee table.

Marcia Gay Harden, who I have come to know and admire through serious stage and film roles (Angels in America, Pollock), turns out to have great comic flair both in terms of well-timed line delivery and physical performance. (Her British predecessor, Janet McTeer, is also coming to Broadway but in the more tragic role of Mary Stuart, the Scottish Queen). When the situation in Carnage finally get the best of Harden's Veronica, it's a memorable explosion. And you'd be wrong to expect James Gandolfini to be another instance of a movie or TVstar adding luster to his resume with a Broadway role. The actor, who in recent years was best known as Tony Soprano, brings a droll geniality to the least educated member of the foursome and, like everyone else make his gunpowder scene funny and far less unsympathetic than it would be if done by a lesser actor.

It's impossible to really describe the precision that gives the performances overall the feeling of a string quartet that's been playing together for years. You really have to experience the almost excruciating pauses that have everyone stares desolately into space, adding to the play's veneer of being more than an entertaining divertissement.

The tightning of the play to 85 minutes and the Americanized dialogue, names and setting notwithstanding, the original plot twists and turns are intact — taking the Novaks and Raleighs from polite pleasantries to increasingly toxic interchanges and finally to the equivalent of the playground contretemps. For more plot details, I'll therefore refer you let Lizzie Loveridge's review which is re-posted below, after the production notes.

The design team has recreated the blood-red living-room with its carefully placed tulip-filled vases. Just as those vases as obviously triggers for disaster, the cracks in the mud-colored walls are obvious symbols of the cracks in the polite surface in these people's initially polite and content with their lives and marriages demeanors. Given that upstage wall's relocation to Brooklyn, it not only has the look of a huge blowup of a photo in Veronica's book about Darfur, but the walls of the not too distant Brooklyn Academy's Harvey Theater.

No teeth are lost by the time the two couples have moved from trying to handle their sons' fight with positive diplomacy to allowing it to disintegrate into a much wider and more numbing and unsatisfying ending. No blood is spilled, but the audience is too exhausted from laughing to feel depressed by the rather sobering finale. Sure, there's a message here about the difficulty, if not impossibility, of healing the scars of life's skirmishes and disappointments, but essentially this is an elegantly acerbic amusement. As buoyantly directed by Warchus, it's impossible to resist laughing at all those not so veiled hostilities as at a second helping of the apple and pear Clafout —— the French confection which, like everything else is flavorful regardless of the cook's nationality.

LINKS TO OTHER REZ PLAYS REVIEWED:
A Spanish Play
Art-Broadway
Art -London
Life (X) 3-London
Life (X) 3-Broadway
Unexpected Man-Los Angeles
Unexpected Man-London

New York Production Notes
God of Carnage
Written by Yasmina Reza , translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Cast: Jeff Daniels (Alan), Hope Davis (Annette), James Gandolfini (Michael) and Marcia Gay Harden (Veronica)
Replacement Cast (as of 11/17/09): Christine Lahti/ Veronica, Annie Potts/ Annette, Jimmy Smits/ Alan, and Ken Stott (original cast member of West End productions of both God of Carnage and Art)/ Michael.
Set and costume designer: Mark Thompson
Lighting design: Hugh Vanstone
Sound designers: Simon Baker and Chris Cronin
Music by Gary Yershon Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes without intermission
Bernard Jacobs Theatre 242 West 45th Street
From 2/28/09; opening 3/22/09; closing 7/05/09.

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London review by Lizzie Loveridge


Madame, our son is a savage.— Alain Reille
People have waited a long time for Yasmina Reza to equal her hit play Art which ran in the West End for over six years. With God of Carnage she comes closer than any other of her subsequent plays by returning to the theme of Art, the breakdown of civilised middle class people into primitive savagery. In it four middle class parents come together to settle a playground dispute, which has left the 11 year old son of two of them missing two front teeth after being hit with a stick by the 11 year old son of the other two. What starts as an adult way of sensibly discussing what is to be done, ends up as a drunken display of primitive and childish playground "ya boo suckery" behaviour.

The initiator of the meeting and mother of the injured Bruno, Veronique Vallon (Janet McTeer) is a liberal author with intellectual aspiration, who writes about Darfur. Her down to earth husband Michel Vallon (Ken Stott) deals in wholesale domestic goods. The parents of Ferdinand are the quirky Annette Reille (Tamsin Greig) something "in wealth management" and Alain Reille (Ralph Fiennes), a corporate lawyer who has his mobile phone almost permanently glued on his ear.

Of course Reza's barbs are aimed at those who largely make up her theatre audience, the middle classes with pretensions to bringing up their children properly. With Christopher Hampton as her translator, the dialogue is exact and very funny. As Veronique receives compliments for the quality of her version of the confection Clafouti, a kind of pudding with fruit in a custard like batter, we are reminded that this play was written by a French woman, as the recipe becomes a matter of pride. In fact one of the Reilles says, "At least all this has given us a new recipe!" Competition is never very far away from the discussion as evident from Ralph Fiennes' character's impatient parting shot: "Clearly you have parenting skills which are superior to ours!"

While we feel the women might agree on most things, the men are very different. Michel has released Nibbles, the family pet hamster into the street the night before to an almost certain cold, shivering death because the noise of the hamster's wheel was disturbing his son. Alain's insensitivity takes another form; he is taking calls on his mobile as he advises a drug company about damage limitation for the side effects of their medication which has most patients looking as if "they are permanently pissed". When Michel's mother phones up her son to discuss her medication for blood pressure, they realise that it is this same product that Alain has been discussing.

The performances are first rate as you might expect from such an illustrious cast. Tamsin Greig as the strung woman who manages to vomit all over Veronique's precious collection of coffee table books and Janet McTeer as the rangy Veronique flexing her fingers agitatedly and pacing the room barefoot. A bottle of rum makes sure that alcohol fuels some of the dramatic excesses of the evening. Veronique, who hates being called Roni, is exposed as the supporter of peace and stability in Africa who cannot achieve a peaceful settlement of the boys' playground dispute.

The marriages rip apart as Annette takes revenge on her husband's constant conversations on the intrusive cell phone and the tulips bought to make the setting attractive are thrown all over the floor. Michel and Veronique Vallon expose their lack of common values in this marriage of small businessman and author. Both men get off less lightly from Reza's pen than the women. Describing themselves as having been brought up with "a John Wayne-ish idea of virility" they are not going to agree from the off. Ken Stott's pompous Michel is dislikeable, Ralph Fiennes' detached lawyer is disinterested but very funny.

Mark Thompson's emphatic red walled set rages from the off but although I was in Row F of the Stalls my companion and I had problems with the sightlines in this part of the Gielgud. My advice would be to secure seats in the Circle or maybe the management should look at raising the stage to take care of the lack of rake. Like Art, God of Carnage is a light and amusing social comedy which will draw an audience as long as it has theatrical stars in it.

Production Notes
God of Carnage
Written by Yasmina Reza
Directed by Matthew Warchus

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Ken Stott, Janet McTeer, Tamsin Greig
Design: Mark Thompson
Lighting: Hugh Vanstone
Sound: Simon Baker
Music: Gary Yershon
Running time: One hour 40 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 0844 482 5130
Booking to 14th June 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 26th March 2008 performance at The Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1
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