Friday, April 15, 2011

Parents' Night Out: 'God of Carnage' Review

Hope Davis, from left, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini star in
"God of Carnage" at the Ahmanson Theatre.
(Photo credit: Craig Schwartz / Center Theatre Group)

Billed as a "comedy of manners ... without the manners," "God of Carnage" abandons all sense of propriety almost immediately to offer a hilariously vicious take-down of parenting and, most of all, marriage.

The play, now on stage at the Ahmanson Theatre downtown, stars Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden as two sets of parents who meet to discuss a playground incident that has left one of their sons temporarily toothless (well, just a couple of incisors).

What starts off as tense yet respectful negotiations as to when apologies will be forthcoming from the stick-wielding child quickly spirals into a screaming match that has alliances shifting faster than you can say, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

Written by French playwright Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton and directed by Matthew Warchus, "God of Carnage" originally appeared on Broadway with this same spectacular cast. That connection and familiarity of the foursome was palpable on opening night, when Ian and I caught this starry performance. (Equally starry was the audience, which consisted of such notables as Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Will Ferrell, Martin Sheen and Anjelica Huston.)

The play opens with parents Michael and Veronica (Gandolfini and Harden) sitting down in their living room with parents Alan and Annette (Daniels and Davis) to discuss the playground incident which has resulted in their son's injury.

While cellphone-addicted Alan can barely stay focused long enough to throw out withering barbs, Annette seeks to mollify the situation and offers to bring her son over later that evening.

The art-book-loving Darfur writer Veronica, meanwhile, wants apologies and stat, while husband Michael just wants some peace, as he's dealing with his ailing mother who can't stop calling.

This might sound awkward and dramatic -- and it is. But it's also laugh-out-loud funny in its delivery.

Who knew I would cackle at such demeaning lines as Harden's "Every word you say is DE-STROY-ING me," or Gandolfini's "Children consume our lives and then destroy them."

Throw in a particularly well-staged "chuke" scene, and you've got black comedy at its best.

Mawwiage, a la "The Princess Bride," this is not.

While the entire comedy takes place in one location -- Veronica and Michael's well-appointed living room -- Ian and I both felt that at some point the characters would feel the need to storm out. If you or your spouse has been insulted enough, you'd think you'd just walk out in a huff.

Not these volatile parents. Every time they get the chance to leave, something keeps dragging them right back in.

Perhaps, despite the metaphorical carnage that's exhibiting itself on stage, they're secretly having too much fun.

I know we were.

"God of Carnage"
April 5-May 29, 2011
Ahmanson Theatre
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tickets: $20-$120; click here to purchase

(Note: Media tickets provided)

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