Sunday, May 15, 2011

Play: God of Carnage

My mom started me on the theater when I was young, my first ever musical was the first national tour of Phantom of the Opera for my 9th birthday. Ever since then I've almost always gone a few times a year, and it's something I always look forward to.

When picking what play I wanted to go to at the Ahmanson this year (my mom treats my sister and I to one show a year) the description and the awards catch my eye. It wasn't until much more recently did I learn that the entire original cast was returning, which only served to up my excitement - and my expectations of this play.

Genre: Dark Comedy, Drama

The Cast: 
Jeff Daniels
Hope Davis
James Gandolfini
Marcia Gay Harden

The Official Description:
“God of Carnage" is set in a gentrified section of Brooklyn where two married couples meet to sort out a playground fight between their sons. At first, niceties are observed but as the evening progresses and the rum flows, the gloves come off and the night becomes a side-splitting free-for-all."

The Review:
Jeff Daniels plays a lawyer who works 24/7 and can't breathe without his cell phone. His wife (Hope Davis) is a wealth management adviser who is tired of her husband working 24/7. Marcia Gay Harden plays a writer whose work is concentrated on Africa (her latest book is about Darfur) and James Gandolfini plays a business owner who is henpecked by his wife.

They're all people whose marriages were clearly strained even before the incident (which we never see - nor do we ever see the kids) that prompted this meeting occurred, so no one necessarily comes off as overly nice or likable. Nothing is resolved either, if anything the nerves are exposed and even more raw than before.

If it doesn't sound like there's much to the plot, that's because well, there isn't and it unfolds exactly in the way the summary describes: they start out civil, then they start picking at each other - both the other couple and their own spouses and by the end of it, the women are hammer drunk, the men are less drunk, and they're all looking rather broken. It's clear that the dirty laundry has been aired and you wonder if the couples can pull through it or not.

The play is billed as a dark comedy, I'm not 100% sure I agree. You do laugh, but you're laughing at the absurdity of it, at the frustration and the sadness of the relationships falling apart before you. Watching something Lieutenant of Inishmore on the other hand (a way, way, way darker play than this that will forever be my baseline for dark humor because that was pitch black) you're not only laughing at the absurdity of it, but you're laughing at some genuinely funny moments. I'd almost say it's more a drama with a few funny moments than an actual dark comedy.

At the end of the day, I think this play is the perfect example of acting elevating a work: the fundamentals of the play were solid, if unremarkable and maybe even a bit forgettable. It was the acting that brought this work to the next level and made it work as well as it did. You cared about these people at all because the quartet put their all out there and had a wonderful chemistry and sense of timing that made the beats just right.

If you have the chance to see the play with this cast, I'd recommend it, because the accomodations it's won for the acting are fully deserved. If it's without the cast, I'm not so sure that there's enough to warrant seeing it.

My Grade: B-

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