Just how thin is the veneer of bourgeois propriety? On the evidence of Yasmina Reza’s hilarious new comedy, God of Carnage, it’s thinner than an apple slice in a properly baked clafouti. Which is to say, it doesn’t take much to puncture the atmosphere of civility between the two Brooklyn couples in the play, who get together after one’s 11-year-old son has hit the other’s boy with a stick and knocked out two teeth.
The parents of the perp, who may or may not have been provoked, are a lawyer who spends much of the meeting yelling into his cellphone on business (played by Jeff Daniels with master-of-the-universe self-absorption) and his mousey wife, Annette (Hope Davis), who claims to work in ”wealth management” — presumably her husband’s. They gather in the art- and artbook-filled home of a seemingly upstanding wholesaler who becomes increasingly untucked (James Gandolfini) and a do-gooder who’s just written a book about Darfur and believes in ”standing up for civilization” until she too becomes unhinged (pitch-perfect Marcia Gay Harden).
Before long, every sign of diplomacy and decorum is soon stripped from this scene of conflict resolution. But the id stays in the picture. There is destruction of property, the emptying of a potent bottle of 10-year-old rum, and a sudden eruption of vomit. The play unfolds like Edward Albee with an effervescent shot of slapstick. Each of the characters is revealed to be a hypocrite in some way, erupting into tantrums, name-calling, and figurative kicking of sand into each other’s faces.
Matthew Warchus, who’s directed each of Reza’s previous shows on Broadway, maintains a finely balanced farce-like pacing, giving particular attention to the silences in which his so-called adults stew and contemplate their next immature assaults on one other. And Christopher Hampton, Reza’s longtime English-language translator, has created a witty adaptation that smartly suits its new U.S. venue (transposing the play’s original Paris setting, which had been employed in London, to Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill.)
From her international hit Art to Life x 3, Reza has established herself as a master of middlebrow social satires, magnificently constructed plays that reveal the character and contradictions of various types, that insert just enough highbrow references (clafouti, Darfur) to suggest a greater depth, and that gallop to a final curtain in an efficient hour and a half, without intermission. God of Carnage is true to form. In addition, it’s enormously fun to watch — and this well-synchronized cast of Broadway veterans has a grand old time devolving into petulant children on stage. A-