Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review: God of Carnage

Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini. Photo Boneau Bryan-Brown.

Bad Manners, but Staged in Oh, So Good a Manner

By Lauren Yarger
Tribal drums open the curtain at the beginning of God of Carnage on Broadway and it’s soon apparent that war indeed is about to erupt as two sets of parents meet to discuss a fight between their schoolboys.

Veronica and Michael (Marcia Gay Harden and James Gandolfini) whose boy had some teeth knocked out in the incident, invite the other boy’s parents, Annette and Alan (Hope Davis and Jeff Daniels) over to their home. The meeting begins with a forced politeness as the four attempt to find mutually agreeable wording to describe the incident for insurance claims (Annette and Alan object to their boy being described as “armed with a stick”). Things quickly go from bad to worse.

Attorney Alan clearly is here against his will and interrupts discussions by taking frequent cell phone calls about a possibly harmful drug produced by a company he represents. His lack of respect for hardware salesman Michael and lack of interest in the discussion, as well as in his son, it would seem, erodes the congenial atmosphere Michael and his wife have tried to create by serving a special dessert and decorating with fresh tulips.

Veronica wants to know how Annette and Alan will punish their instigator son and the conversation soon turns ugly, aided by the tongue-loosening effects of some aged rum (the first thing Alan seems genuinely interested in). All manners go out the window and the carnage abounds, including diminutive Harden’s hilarious flying-leap attack of bulky Gandolfini, one of the best puking scenes you’ll ever see on stage, a constant running joke about the plight of a hamster, the drowning of the cell phone and a violent shredding of the tulips. All this takes place in a civilized living room surrounded by towering blood-red walls from set and costume designer Mark Thompson.

While playwright Yasmina Reza’s script (translated by Christopher Hampton) might have a few holes (there’s no reason evident for why Annette and Alan would agree to the meeting in the first place or stay once it gets unwieldy among other nit picks), it plugs them with non-stop laughs throughout the show. We can’t help but see ourselves a little in the characters, even if we never would be brave enough to say or do what we witness.

Director Matthew Warchus blends four terrific performances and scores some extra points for casting Gandolfini, whose facial expression, especially during the puking scene, are priceless. Naturally funny lines about having belonged to a gang who would beat people up for him, for example, are enhanced when delivered by the former head of HBO TV’s Soprano Mafia family.

Daniels is slickly sublime, Harden is deliciously frustrated and Davis is really funny as the peacekeeper turned violent.

God of Carnage is on a break through the summer until September 2009 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W. 45th St., New York. For tickets,
call 212-239-6200.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• God’s name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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