April 15, 2011
GOD OF CARNAGE starring original Tony Award-winning cast, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden, opened last night at the Ahmanson Theatre and here’s what the critics had to say:
LOS ANGELES TIMES
“Any stage work that can bring out the bestial best in James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis is all right with me…What great fun it is watching these characters tear into one another’s self-regard.”
“There is never any question throughout God of Carnage that playwright Yasmina Reza and translator Christopher Hampton are in complete conscious of their effects. This burlesque of manners, Strindberg sifted through sitcom strategies, presents the requisite Albeesque pair of couples gathered to thrash out the consequences of a sublimely conventional event, a playground fight, which they manage to escalate over barely eighty minutes into a imbroglio of existential implications.”
“There is theater history to be witnessed on the stage of Ahmanson Theater, where God of Carnage opened on Wednesday night with the much celebrated, original Tony-nominated Broadway cast intact (Marcia Gay Harden, James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis).
The backdrop of savagery, literally illustrated in Mark Thompson’s sparse, blood-red set that rises on sounds of jungle drums, foreshadows the devolution of their meeting. The character’s self-importance stifles their ability to accept personal responsibility, and rather than settle the dispute they attack each other. Insults fly, drinking ensues, and animal instincts prevail. The joy in this production is experienced as pompous manners give way to impulsive displays of crude authenticity delivered with abandon by all four actors.
The precision in Matthew Warchus’ sturdy direction elicits deeply committed, seamless ensemble performances. In top physical and vocal form, this team of four gives an inspired, explosive performance. We witness Marcia Gay Harden espouse her evolved consciousness as she becomes obsessed, insulting, and physically dangerous. Daniels, initially the most crude of the bunch, is the most honest, and ends up seeming to have the least need to “lash out.” This is Gandolfini’s first project since The Sopranos, and he is in top notch form, and Davis, initially displaying a desire for peace, becomes the catalyst for the play’s spiral into primitive displays of raw humanity.”
ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
As any “Sopranos” fan can attest, Gandolfini plays middle-aged male rage better than most actors on the planet. He makes Michael’s descent from solicitousness into xenophobia a frightening spectacle without overdoing the transformation. Michael is a man who wants to do right, but he’s also a creature of the streets, and watching those instincts kick in is one of this production’s distinct pleasures.
Harden’s Veronica harbors comparable anger, and when it surfaces the effect is like a splash of ice water. Like Michael, she’s a warrior, but her veil of civility is thicker, making the emergence of her inner tigress all the more shocking.
Daniels’ Alan creates a fascinating arc: he comes on boorish then reveals hidden sensitivities as the conflict unfolds. “I believe in the god of carnage who has ruled the world uninterruptedly since the dawn of time,” he announces, and you come to realize he has a more realistic, if more cynical, understanding of human nature than the other three. Daniels also excels at something that every Reza script requires at some point: silent implacability.
As an emotionally repressed yet deeply frustrated woman, Davis has the most challenging role, but she’s a master of such characters. It’s a treat to watch Annette’s perfectly coiffed and tamped down persona start to crumble then detonate into a mass of frustration and anger. Annette is the least in touch with herself among this quartet, and Davis captures her mystification brilliantly.
Director Matthew Warchus deploys his actors with sly calculation on Mark Thompson’s set, which cleverly conveys Michael and Veronica’s cultural and intellectual pretention. The paths these characters follow around the room, as much as their body language, tell us volumes about shifting alliances and power struggles.
With these actors the journey is well worth taking.”
“Thanks to the efforts of virtuosic artists reprising their efforts from Broadway—director Matthew Warchus and actors Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden—the 90-minute piece crackles with razor-sharp wit from the first moment to the last.”
The actors are in champion form, acing the lacerating yet explosively funny dialogue and illuminating the desperate efforts of the characters to resume drawing-room chitchat between verbal assaults. Daniels is terrific as the self-absorbed shark of a businessman with a cell phone glued to his ear. Davis skillfully navigates between peacemaker and instigator, as Annette gradually turns from soft-spoken lady to enraged wife.
As a pseudo-liberal suburban wife and mother with intellectual pretensions, the sublime Harden pulls out all stops when Veronica turns into a screaming harridan. Playing a character who rationalizes his cruelty to the family’s pet hamster, the superb Gandolfini is alternately fiendish and detached from the bizarre goings-on.
Mark Thompson’s scenic design is a wonder to behold. The sparsely decorated, elegant set is dominated by sky-high walls in deep red, evoking a slightly ominous feel—a portent of the impending meltdown.”
“After wildly successful runs both in London’s West End and on Broadway, where it won the 2009 Tony Award for Best Play, God of Carnage opened last night at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in a theatrical tour-de-force that is sure to be the talk of the town.
It’s rare that Los Angeles audiences get to see the original cast of a Broadway production, but if there was ever one to wait for, this was it. Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden all reprise their Tony nominated performances (Harden actually won the 2009 Best Actress Award), and seeing the four spar on stage is like watching world class boxers duking it out in a Championship Prize fight. At first, they gracefully dance around each other, gently testing and teasing their opponent to find their weak spots, and then, quickly, without warning, leap into battle with a carefully measured body blow that draws blood.”