I was fortunate to see Yasmina Reza’s play “God of Carnage” in 2009 on Broadway, where it won the Best Play Tony and featured four stars: Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden. As we all know, we’re living in a culture that seems to enjoy watching stars misbehaving, either onstage or off.
As it happens, the Alliance Theatre is presenting a powerhouse version of the play, which has taken off with audiences and has just been extended until February 4. The players may not be as well known as the above four (with the exception of Jasmine Guy), but it’s just as much fun to watch their onstage fireworks, expertly directed by Kent Gash, former Alliance Associate Artistic Director (and current director of NYU Tisch School of the Arts’ New Studio on Broadway—bravo, Mr. Gash).
We’re treated in this stealth bomb of a play to two well-to-do New York City couples whose young sons have had a playground fight: Alan (Geoffrey Darnell Williams) and Annette’s (Crystal Fox) son has hit Michael (Keith Randolph Smith) and Veronica’s (Jasmine Guy) son in the mouth with a stick, breaking two of his teeth. The scene is Michael and Veronica’s stylish home, and the action begins civilly enough, with Veronica’s serving espresso and dainty hors d’oeuvres to one and all.
But storm clouds quickly gather. Alan, a corporate lawyer, is connected to his cellphone like glue, annoying everyone. This becomes an interesting conceit for the characters and the audience: We pretend to be listening to one another, but there are invisible—and visible—barriers to real communication. Soon the tension in the air is palpable. “Your son should come over and apologize!” “What do you suppose your son did to provoke ours?”
As the anger escalates, Annette’s delicate stomach, uh, betrays her, in an unforgettable scene. Ms. Fox has a delicious combination of earthiness and vulnerability. Ms. Guy’s Veronica, for all her initial social graces, has a tough-as-nails side that emerges as needed. As a matter of fact, the acting is absolutely first rate by all. Mr. Williams’ Alan and Mr. Smith’s Michael are both alpha males but complex and multifaceted.
At times the cast reminds me of a championship basketball team: Their passing is exciting, unpredictable, and kinetic. Sometimes, it’s the women against the men; sometimes, vice versa. The gloves come off, despite poor Veronica’s “Now there is still such a thing as the art of coexistence, isn’t there?”
This may, in fact, be the central question of the whole play, for all of us. How would you act in such a fracas? It’s the sheer theatricality that wows in this play; there’s no deep character study. There isn’t time: The play is over in a very fast, completely entertaining 80 minutes.
The cast of “God of Carnage” is African-American; it’s a choice the theatre made, but it’s a fact that
almost immediately becomes quite irrelevant. The play is expertly translated from the French, by the way, by Christopher Hampton. The sleek set is by Edward E. Haynes, Jr.
I believe I mentioned the show has been extended; “Carnage” is not “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” to which it’s been compared. But Mr. Gash and company have provided us quite a thrill ride.
For tickets and information, visit alliancetheatre.org.