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).
In Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage (best known for Art and Life X 3) Alan (Jeff Daniels) and Annette (Hope Davis) accept an invitation to the home of Michael (James Gandolfini) and Veronica (Marcia Gay Harden - her portrayal garnered her a best actress Tony) to amicably negotiate the handling of a savage playground altercation between their sons. It is recognizable Reza when these upper-middle-class characters strip away their pretension and take a ride on the slippery slope on which their children have perched them. Michael (Gandolfini) even acknowledges that this is a slope on which they don't want to slip. Nonetheless, the desire to support one another in parenting their children turns into parenting each other.
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 renders them unable 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.