God of Carnage -- Theater Review

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"God of Carnage," Yasmina Reza's Tony-winning play about two couples dealing with a schoolyard altercation between their young sons, is as finely tuned as a Swiss watch. Its comic precision is well-demonstrated by its replacement Broadway cast, which is faced with the unenviable task of succeeding James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden, all Tony-nominated (with the latter winning).

The original all-star ensemble generated blockbuster weekly grosses throughout its eight-month run. Grosses already have dropped sharply for the current cast, consisting of Christine Lahti, Annie Potts, Jimmy Smits and Ken Stott. But it's still doing estimable business, and there's no reason that the production, like Reza's hit "Art," shouldn't have a lengthy run featuring a succession of reasonably well-known performers for whom the play should prove catnip. That is, as long as director Matthew Warchus is around to provide his expert stewardship.

Although the play doesn't exactly reveal hidden depths upon repeat viewings, its sheer craftsmanship becomes more evident. As the two couples gradually drop their civilized veneer to reveal the hidden turmoil underneath, the hilarity increases incrementally. This is a play that manages to generate huge laughs from such simple props as a cell phone, tulips and a hair dryer.

As Alan, the slick corporate lawyer, Smits has the rare opportunity to display his comic chops and makes the most of it. Although he doesn't get as much comic mileage from his character's disdain as did Jeff Daniels -- and, in the London production, Ralph Fiennes -- his body language speaks volumes.

Potts is less emotionally fragile than was Davis as Alan's wealth-manager wife, Annette, but she uses her brittleness to fine effect and is hilarious when she finally lets the fur fly.
Lahti is somewhat more refined than was Harden as the high-toned Veronica, and she doesn't generate the same amount of hysterical laughs. But it's also a more realistic, grounded portrayal that well-contrasts with the frequent outrageousness of her fellow players.

To play Michael, the household-product wholesaler who proudly admits that he is "a Neanderthal," the producers have brought in British actor Stott. But the little-known (on these shores) performer actually is a ringer, having originated the part in the London production. And he's absolutely superb, bringing comic nuances to the part that eluded Gandolfini (who was pretty great) and who has the additional virtue of delivering his lines at a faster clip, speeding up the pace of a production that already was commendably brisk.

Venue: Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, New York (Runs indefinitely)
Cast: Christine Lahti, Annie Potts, Jimmy Smits, Ken Stott
Playwright: Yasmina Reza
Translator: Christopher Hampton
Director: Matthew Warchus
Scenic/costume designer: Mark Thompson
Lighting designer: Hugh Vanstone
Music: Gary Yershon
Sound designer: Simon Baker, Christopher Cronin
Presented by Robert Fox, David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers, Stuart Thompson, Scott Rudin, Jon B. Platt, The Weinstein Company and The Shubert Organization
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