Nice Show You Got There

Nov 06

playbillgodofcarnage.jpgNot for nothing, but I really enjoyed God of Carnage even though I had to pay full price and ended up sitting in the back of the mezzanine. Hey, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. And these tickets are hot!

As you probably know, one of the characters is played by Tony Soprano. I mean, James Gandolfini. Oh, get real. It is impossible to look at that man in this role and not see him as the “family guy” on The Sopranos, the wildly popular HBO show that has created many a tense moment for Italian-Americans across the land. See Bada Bing! Bada Boom!

But talk about tense moments! God of Carnage is about two couples, four “civilized” people who get together to discuss a problem between their two sons: the kids had a fight in the schoolyard. Back before the rise of Helicopter Parents, the children might have settled this themselves. These days, adults feel they must get involved. And involved they get, in a big way.

Okay, one kid did get hurt (he lost a few teeth) and the other kid was wielding a stick, so no one’s saying that the parents shouldn’t have been concerned. But this incident escalates into World War III, not to mention a lawsuit (so what else is new?) looming in the background. One of the parents is a lawyer who, in a rare moment when he isn’t on his cell phone obviously wishing he was anywhere else than here, objects to the term “armed with” a stick as used by the mother of the victim. She gives in on that point. Sort of.

Let’s face it, this “discussion” is all about the parents, not their kids — and that’s not a pretty sight.

Funny, though . . .

The dialogue is pitch perfect. And the timing, which involves projectile vomiting, something I would never have admitted to finding hilarious until this very minute, is also outstanding.

Small details, which turn out to be Big Deals, keep coming back like a relative that won’t go away. In fact, one of them is a relative who won’t go away, the mother who keeps calling at all the wrong times. (Any time is the wrong time that day.) Recurring themes also involve a dead hamster, 50 tulips (for only $40 at the neighborhood bodega), and a homemade pie or tart or torte (I never did get that straight, but maybe that was the point).

Besides Gandolfini, who projected extraordinarily well even to the cheap seats, the cast consisted of Marcia Gay Harden, who stole the show as Gandolfini’s socially conscious, tightly wound wife, Veronica. Hope Davis, who we (and her therapist, Gabriel Byrne) can’t resist on In Treatment is perfect as Annette, the even more tightly wound wife of the lawyer, Alan (Jeff Daniels), the only character in the show who doesn’t pretend to be anything other than who he is.

Tony, I mean Michael (Gandolfini), is trying to be more sophisticated than his raw, take-no-prisoners self, which begins to be revealed when he finds out to his delight that his son has a gang. Veronica is trying to come across as calm, caring, and wise, and Annette is trying not to throw up. Alan decides to enjoy some really good rum and see what happens.

What happens is that they all devolve into raving lunatics. And I, for one, loved it.

Not everyone does. One person thought that the material was thin, especially compared to August, Osage County, another domestic comedy/drama about people behaving badly. And someone else complained about having spent all that money (she had orchestra seats) to listen to two couples yelling at each other all evening.

See, I find that comforting: we (my husband and I) do bicker, but we’re not that bad . . .
And isn’t that why we like certain shows: to validate our own actions and to feel a little superior? Good writing and good acting doesn’t hurt either.

So if you want my opinion, spring for the good seats, if you can get them. Or take your chances in the balcony. Like I said, Tony projects real good.

God of Carnage is now playing at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre on Broadway.

More play reviews on this site:

Bye, Bye Birdie

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