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September 15, 2009

God of Carnage: Eh

I’m not sure if the following contains spoilers, since part of the problem is that “The God of Carnage” was so predictable that I’m not sure if we were supposed to know from the beginning what would happen. So, while I’ll steer clear of outright plot spoilers, I am going to talk about the general progression and strategy of the play, so don’t read any further if you’re thinking of seeing the show. On the other hand, if you’re thinking of seeing the show, you ought to read a little further just to give yourself a chance to change your mind.

“The God of Carnage” won a Tony for best drama and for best actress for Marcia Gay Hayden. So obviously the experts saw something that I didn’t. I saw a play that from the beginning was obvious in its intent: Two couples would come unglued. Civilization would be revealed as a shiny surface believed in by liberals (obvious as soon as we learn one of the characters is writing a book about Darfur), masking the dog-eat-dog, name-calling bestiality waiting to break through at any moment. The play proceeds by giving each configuration of the four a moment, and each person a revelatory scene. By the book. By the book.

The acting was pretty disappointing, especially given that the four stars — on stage pretty much for the entire 80 minutes — are Hayden, James Gandolfini, Hope Davis, and Jeff Daniels. Wow. I actually don’t blame them. The writing — or perhaps the translation — is just awkward. It’s stuff nobody would actually say, and not because it’s so clever. It’s stuffy language.

The play was written by Yasmina Reza. I liked her “Art” better, although that seemed to me to be more superficial than it intended. Still, it at least was about something. “God of Carnage” isn’t. And although there are a couple of funny moments — Jeff Daniels on the phone — and some of the acting was enjoyable — Gandolfini smiling — I’m beginning to think that Yasmina Reza is the French Neil Simon, except more pretentious and not even as funny. (And please note that I am not a big Simon fan.)

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