Theater Review: L.A.'s 'God of Carnage'

Impeccably accessible comedy of despair reunites original Broadway cast in Los Angeles. Crowd pleaser balances its slightness against a bleak view of humanity, mixing guffaws with shocks of recognition.

The original Broadcast cast stars in the "impeccably accessible comedy of despair" at Ahmanson Theatre through May 29.

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.

Any comedy that pivots on milking puke gags is not pushing the subtlety buttons of the audience, though the themes it tackles are large ones: the meaning of self and relationships in the context of the larger world. These squabbling, profoundly horrid people remind one of Gandhi’s rejoinder when asked his opinion of Western civilization, “I think it would be a good idea.”

To a great extent, Reza sets up arguments as straw folk to be neatly dismantled in as messy a theatrical fashion as possible, though this is not how the action is organized for the audience, which is encouraged to react primarily to the grossness of the behavior while being initiated into the bigger issues as the characters disintegrate before them. This is not so very different from the hypocrises the text skewers. Reza shrewdly makes all four intelligent and articulate in their respective ways, and the play’s progression provides the precise pleasures of manners keenly observed. In the French style, politeness is defined by more by correctness than compassion.

Nevertheless, the play deliberately traffics in highly underlined hijinks, which the production emphasizes in a determinedly broad style that seems utterly Broadway in pitch. This is not tempered by the massive size of the Ahmanson, though the scale does manage to suit the house’s dimensions. The actors, who doubtless are exploring new dimensions after a long run, skillfully register a lot of shadings, though better in repose than in the posturings, which suits the author’s intentions well.

A film version directed by Roman Polanski starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christoph Walz is in post-production.

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