Hitting the leg of the person next to you (while laughing out loud) repeatedly during a performance is a good sign. My stinging palm is proof that God of Carnage, at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre, is an absolute delight. This French expose of modern marriage is written by Yasmina Reza (translated by Christopher Hampton) and directed by Matthew Warchus (Boeing Boeing, Follies, and numerous West End productions.) Set in Cobble Hill Brooklyn in 90 minutes of real time, there is never a dull moment. It seems dismissive to describe Ms. Reza’s work as a 21st century Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but somewhat apt. Perhaps any theatrical construct of two married couples exposing the underbelly of their selves and their marital dynamics is going to conjure Edward Albee. In the case of God of Carnage it was the fierce humor, and quite frankly, the drinking, that whispered “Virginia Woolf” repeatedly. But that reference is merely a jumping off point for this play. Without resorting to Lifetime movie tactics, God of Carnage manages to tackle; bullying, gangs, violence and social class while never losing its humor or dramatic interest. The fact that the evening stays above the sentimental fray must be greatly credited to the incredible cast. Hope Davis and Jeff Daniels as one couple and Marcia Gay Harden and James Gandolfini as the other couple. Not enough can be said about the sheer delight in watching these four very talented people. Ms. Harden has a luscious role and plays it like a virtuoso; she is hysterical and heartbreaking and infuriating. As difficult as it is to take ones eyes off of Ms. Harden, this truly is an ensemble piece and it is clear that this quartet is having the time of their lives. It speaks volumes to me that during repeated silences, the acting was equally as riveting as it was during the explosions.
Ms. Davis and Mr. Daniels (a wealth management professional and attorney) are visiting Ms. Harden and Mr. Gandolfini (an art historian and home fixture retailer) to discuss their sons’ recent physical altercation. The stage is set in a dramatic fashion. The entire stage is used as the living room; a rather unbelievable conceit for a Brooklyn home. However, in an entertainment world in which Greenwich Village rent controlled apartments are 2,000 square feet with terraces, and newspaper columnists can support $650 a pair shoe shopping habits, all NYC scale bets are off. There is a bold textured wall separating the living room from the rest of the apartment. The wall is set at an angle and we can see the walls behind it, painted red. As the play/story unfolds, the walls become progressively darker; a nice touch. Despite the expanse of the apartment, it is surprising how much of the production so accurately represents time and place; keeping in mind that this play is French. The only nod to its original Parisian setting is the omnipresence of the clafouti (a French pastry.) The costumes, mannerisms and parental concerns simply scream “NYC 2009!”
I strongly recommend seeing this production, and seeing it with someone who does not bruise easily.