And the Vice-President liked it too

This is a review of Yasmina Reza’s play God of Carnage, currently on Broadway at the Jacobs Theatre.

In college (that long-ago oasis were we read serious plays all day and consumed vodka-and-orange juice for breakfast, lunch and dinner), my professors constantly harped on the concept of a ‘well-made play.’  What, exactly, is a ‘well-made play’?  Something that gets revived?  Something that becomes a classic?  A point of reference for Shakespeare’s infamous ‘troubled plays’?  It’s an indefinable answer (should’a learned that before I attempted to define it in a term paper), but I have a feeling the kind of play they were talking about is God of Carnage.

It won the Best Play Tony-- and it deserved it!

A four person cast puts the audience through a romp of les enfants terrible in this caustic comedy about child-rearing and modern times by the French writer Yasmina Reza.  Reza’s written seven plays, a controversial book on President Nicolas Sarkozy (Dawn, Dusk or Night:  A Year with Nicolas Sarkozy, aka I Saw Carla Bruni Naked) and her first flick is forthcoming, but really she’s only known in the States for the phenomenally successful three-person play that made her name, Art.  I’ve seen Art twice, once on the London stage with Michael Gambon and once here stateside with the perfect trifecta of Alan Alda, Victor Garber and an almost-scene-stealing Alfred Molina.  And Art, too, is a ‘well-made play.’  (A measure of credit must also go to her longtime translator, the excellent-writer-in-his-own-right (or write?), Michael Christopher Hampton.)

So how does this French woman do it, write taunt, well-constructed plays that deliver entertaining laughs, a bit of insight, and great roles for actors, and then send the audience home in about 90 minutes, happy?  I have no freaking idea.  I only know it’s one of the hardest things to do:  She’s writing plays that don’t depend on who you cast or what the set looks like, just on the precision language she employs.

Speaking of casts, I didn’t see the original cast, but I did catch Jimmy Smits, Christine Lahti (whom I’ve always liked, and seen onstage in a Wasserstein play) and Annie Potts, and they were all quite excellent, uniformly good, though they were almost outdone by a British actor named Ken Stott (from the original London production, as well as the original London production of Art).  In just a few weeks the cast changes again, this time to a returning Jeff Daniels, the actor’s actor Dylan Baker, the British sensation Janet McTeer, and a Charlie’s Angel herself, Lucy Liu.  Now, you may think of Liu as an odd choice for a Broadway play, but I have a feeling it just doesn’t matter–  this is that rare play that’s actor proof.

The woman can write. Maybe it's the bread, the cheese, the wine?

So if you’re in the mood for 90 minutes of intelligent and funny grown-up theater (and I saw grown-up knowing full well that the adults behave like children, and that’s part of the joy of theater, isn’t it?  Watching adults have a temper-tantrum that we want to have, but don’t allow ourselves?), I say go as soon as you can (it’s half-price at TKTS).  A few minutes before I began, as I was seated in the orchestra waiting for some Broad-WAY theat-TUH, in walked Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden.  They got a tremendous standing ovation from the crowd, and then we all watched the play.  I heard him laugh several times, as it’s a laugh-out-loud play, so the Vice-President liked it too.  (I mean, can you imagine for Vice-President Cheney and his wife taking in a French play on a Friday night, for fun?)  Perhaps he recognized that God of Carnage is a ‘well-made play.’

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One Response to “And the Vice-President liked it too”

  1. patricia harrington schreiber Says:

    Wally,

    Thanks for your review, it’s ‘spot on’ as they say in England. This play blew me away and that isn’t easy to do on broadway. But then again it did originate in London, which in my opinion is the absolutelybest place to see theater. I remember asking myself about fifteen minutes into the play how could this story sustain an entire play and was sure I was going to be bored. But then it began to unfold, peeling away the layers like you would an onion, and became compelling, riveting. I was totally engrossed. Reza is a true wordsmith and extremely original. I loved the cast every one of them – especially Jimmy Smits who gives me hot flashes ever since L.A. Law!

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