After wildly successful runs both in London's West End and on Broadway, where it won the 2009 Tony Award for Best Play, God of Carnage opened last night at Center Theatre Group's Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in a theatrical tour-de-force that is sure to be the talk of the town.
It's rare that Los Angeles audiences get to see the original cast of a Broadway production, but if there was ever one to wait for, this was it. Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden all reprise their Tony nominated performances (Harden actually won the 2009 Best Actress Award), and seeing the four spar on stage is like watching world class boxers duking it out in a Championship Prize fight. At first, they gracefully dance around each other, gently testing and teasing their opponent to find their weak spots, and then, quickly, without warning, leap into battle with a carefully measured body blow that draws blood.
The plot is simple and straightforward. Henry, the son of Michael and Veronica (Gandolfini and Harden) had two teeth knocked out by Benjamin, the son of Alan and Annette (Daniels and Davis), in an altercation at a local park. So the parents decide to sit down, civilly and respectfully, to discuss and decide on how to best handle the matter.
Yasmina Reza's play, translated by Christopher Hampton, is artful in its composition. What starts outs as a civil social call over an unfortunate and somewhat uncomfortable situation with the children, gently unfolds into a greater conversation of social contracts and civilization. What quickly becomes evident, however, is that each of the four has a somewhat different outlook on the event, and life for that matter, which quickly begins to disintegrate the social norms, often to hilarious effect. All it takes is a simple disagreement over the choice of a word for the parties to quickly become defensive, argumentative and ultimately completely irrational. All the while, with each traded barb, the play exposes the inadequacies and individual fractures in each couple's relationship.