Tuesday May 3, 2011 / 8:00pmGod of Carnage
Mezzanine (rows H-P)
How was your experience?
This play won a Tony? Undeserved in my opinion. But then, there is precious little competition on Broadway anymore, so even a mediocre effort such as GOD OF CARNAGE can rise to the top. The premise (two 11-years-olds have a playground fight in which one boy is hurt and the parents come together to resolve the conflict) could have been absolutely anything that might bring two couples together: two couples getting food poisoning at a restaurant perhaps; two couples trying to buy the same house? There were only the vaguest hints that the altercation on the playground might have emerged from something deeper going on in either household, that related somehow to the couples in their parenting styles or worldview. This would have given the piece some heft, or just meaning. But these hints were never developed. We never learn what the boys argued about; it's not supposed to matter. Okay so what was supposed to matter? That these two couples have horrible marriages. We get to watch them unravel in front of each other. It's supposed to be about human nature? Yeah, I can see that, yet the unraveling had nothing to do with the premise. And the behavior of the four adults was way out of line long before the alcohol came out, so were they all just "A-holes"? Suggesting that we are all just A-holes? In a promotional video at the theatre website, one of the actors says it's a play that shows how easy it is to fall into the "us vs. them" mentality. Possibly. It's seems to be more about how A-holes tend to marry other A-holes and then behave like A-holes. Their humanity is not too much in evidence. And these two pairs are clearly way overdue for their divorces, and their children are only 11 years old. Wow! What a statement about marriage... looks like it's over by about year 12. Another actor says the play shows parents how we all have a blind spot about our own kids. Funny, the actor who said that plays a character who is completely honest about his own son's limitations. After as thorough a search as I can do online, I cannot find anywhere in a biography of the playwright that Yasmina Reza has children, nor that she has married her male companion. Perhaps she is married and has children, or maybe it's not necessary. After all, people who write about murder need not have have killed someone to make the writing authentic. But perhaps also, it's the reason that the parenthood and child references in this play feel so thin, (and the scathing indictment of marriage so... ouch!) I'm a parent and I'm sure I do NOT know everything about my kids. But I, like most of my parent friends, know my kids pretty well... the good and the bad. That's my job. Another actor offered that he felt the play would make the audience wonder/debate how these couples would fare after the "conflict resolution" event. Hm. No, the audience I walked out with was pretty much silent; no residual laughter, no excited voices recalling a moment. It felt to me like the people laughing nearby... and it sure wasn't everybody... had just decided they were going to go out and laugh that night no matter what happened on stage. When it was over, it was really OVER... nothing that stayed with you. (Except for me, obviously, a kind of resentment that a play like this gets so much attention.) It wasn't all bad. There was some good physical comedy. But there were also some long patches where no one moved and we were to laugh at the absurdity of the moment as the stop-motion gave us a chance to catch up. Okay, a handful of people laughed at that, but it didn't really work. And the ending tableau, another stop-motion, was supposed to give us the feeling we had just witnessed something profound. Hm. Not really. On the bright side, Gandolfini delivered. He's a real actor... that is, he lets you know in every moment, in body language and voice, exactly how he feels about everything going on around him and what his character is saying. Whereas her physical comedy is good, Harden is one of those stage actors who has not learned how to project her voice and still keep a natural sound in her line delivery, which reduces her performance to a kind of high-pitched monotone (oh, but she got a Tony for this role, so I must be wrong). Davis and Daniels were fine in this regard, although Daniels' character is a Johnny-1-note A-hole from beginning to end. Together the actors did a fine job. It is possible for really good actors to make a really average play seem much better than it is. I think clearly these actors did just that. I loved the defining red background, although the wall of flagstone was odd. It looked like the couples had met in a modern high-rise foyer instead of one of their homes. Okay, now I'm nitpicking. In the end, this play was just not deep enough and was simply about badly behaved people behaving badly. Do we all do it? For sure, occasionally. Then there are the hopeless ones among us who behave badly all the time. Is that really that funny? Hm. I've gone to the theatre for 40 years. I've seen the good and the bad... from inside and out. And I for one want to see theatre get better, not more and more average. Theatre is my one hope (perhaps next to books written by courageous, intelligent, brilliant writers) that we can lift the level of art. The bar is pretty damn high... you got your Mozart, your Shakespeare, your Rubenstein, Heifitz, Rumi, Bolt and Styron. I want to go to the theatre and cry, laugh my head off, come out singing the music because I can't get it out of my head, stand in the parking lot and argue the message with total strangers I just shared a riveting experience with. Is that too much to ask?