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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
God of Carnage
Alan Raleigh (Jeff Daniels) and his wife Annette (Hope Davis) are uncomfortably squelched in the living room of Michael Novak (James Gandolfini) and his wife Veronica (Marcia Gay Harden) to iron out a dispute in which the Novaks' son Henry, 11, was hit in the face with a stick wielded by the Raleighs' son Benjamin, also 11. Violence at an early age is demonstrated by the children. As the play continues, the adults gradually shed the veneer of civilization imposed on them over the years to show what beasts they are below. Veronica (Ronnie) hates and despises Michael, her husband, who sells frying pans and the like. He is, au fond, depressed beyond measure by his job, his self-important wife who is involved in her book about tragedy in Africa, and himself. The blonde limited Annette's appalled fear of exposure bursts out into vomit spewed all over the Novaks' priceless art books and, not incidentally, her husband Alan. Alan is revealed as a pompous idiot so absorbed in his business that he literally collapses when his cell phone is destroyed.
A subplot involves the Novaks' hamster Nibbles who Michael has released into the street the previous night. Nibbles made the "most god-awful racket" all night while Henry was in pain from his broken incisors. And the huge impressive tulips, towering on either side of the stage, wend their way into the script — their size, their cost, how early you have to get up to go out and buy them— until it's no wonder at the end that Annette destroys them, those symbols of Novak success.
Director Matthew Warchus, who has also directed Reza's Art and The Unexpected Man, has been with Carnage from the beginning. Working again with the original New York cast (see the Editor's Note at the end of this review) he shows his flair for blocking by the way the four are splayed across the stage at the end, for drama as fury bubbles up from the four particularly Ronnie, and for blind baffled puzzlement as Annette buries her head in a bowl to vomit and Michael simply gives it up.
Daniels as Alan is world-weary, condescending, and unable to function without that little black cell phone. As Annette, his second wife, Davis is beautiful, shy, the first to force the couples together to hammer out an agreement and the first to break by vomiting all over the set. Ronnie, played by Harden, is a do-gooder and a pseudo-intellectual who loses it and winds up screaming, a scream that has been buried for a long time. Gandolfini's Michael, with his fine wines to compensate for his frying pan career, exposes his anger and sorrow gorgeously.
The set, a scarlet backdrop behind sparse elegant furniture and those two large bouquets of tulips, is designed by Mark Thompson, as are the black costumes dramatically placed against them. Alan has a white coat draped over the back of his chair, Annette wears layered black, Ronnie a black blouse with a black and white print skirt and Michael a black shirt open at the neck.
Reza has taken a simple story of a childrens' brawl and slowly, deliciously expanded it to reveal the God of Carnage that's always there.
Editor's Note: The New York production was a big enough hit to require a second cast, which included one of the members of the London production. To read our reviews of the New York production with a picture of the cast as well as the London production go here