Monday, May 16, 2011

Play Review: God of Carnage



The word is in bold caps and across the poster it struts, clad in an exclamation mark:

HYSTERICAL!

I saw the production of "God of Carnage" at the Ahamanson Theatre in Los Angeles with the original Broadway cast: Jeff Daniels, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis and James Gandolfini.


Hysteric, for sure. Histrionic, agreed. Hysterical, not so much.

French playwright Yasmina Reza won the Tony Award in 2009, along with director Matthew Warchus and actor Harden.

I've been open in this blog regarding my fussy temperament as a reluctant theatre attendee, but I was gung-ho for this show. I'm a fan of all these actors and I love to laugh.

For the ninety minutes of "God of Carnage," I didn't so much as crack a smile. On the contrary, I gnashed my teeth at a display of age-old parlor tricks.

The premise: A quartet of parents meet to discuss, in a pre-determined civilized fashion, the wayward behavior of their eleven-year-old sons.

That's all I need to say, and anyone can guess how this plot will unfold.
The perfect tulips, in their perfect vases, decorating a spare yet elegant home, will lay scattered as adults unleash behavior worse than their children. Lesson learned.

Dormant bitterness erupts, reminiscent of Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" but sadly lacking the volcanic build and tangy wit of that more skilled writer.

I once had a screenwriting teacher who refused to endorse vomiting or cruelty to small animals. Yasmina Reza could have used the tips.

Granted, the projectile vomit from Ms. Davis was a good rig, but the bucket brigade continued as she was forced by her director and writer to upchuck for another forty-five minutes. Davis fared well despite being handicapped by the many spells of nausea.

When a character causes the death of child's pet, in this case a hamster left to die on a Brooklyn curb, any iota of sympathy for that human being is abandoned. I felt more sympathy for Gandolfini's Tony Soprano, who exacted far worse.

Harden kicked her legs and flung her arms, showing a spasmodic distaste for her husband, played by Gandolfini. Showing is the operative word.

Reza has written Daniels' lawyer as a boorish cell phone hog who not only irritates his wife, played by Davis, but struck me as a rude dolt beyond interest.

The forced, declamatory acting, hurled from stage right to stage left and finally into the audience's innocent laps, made HYSTERICAL impossible. We know better. Our theatres have held too many examples of subtle and truly funny human behavior for us to be expected to accept this kind of work from any writer, director or actor.

Truth is funny when it's true.


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