The question beckons … is Yasmina Reza the best-known French playwright since Samuel Beckett? She’s certainly one of the most talented since Beckett … and that’s for sure.
Having had previous successes with Art and Life X 3 among others, Reza’s latest work, God of Carnage, has just hit the Australian stage as part of the Melbourne Theatre Company’s mainstream season.
And, oh what a boom of a season it must be! The MTC has already had success a couple of months ago with the 2008 Tony winner for Best Play in August Osage County. As previously blogged here on The Drama Teacher, that play had one of the best performances of the year in Robyn Nevin’s startling portrayal of the pill-popping Violet Weston.
Now, just to add salt to the opposition’s wounds, the MTC also has the recently crowned 2009 Tony winner for Best Play, God of Carnage, in the same season.
Back to Yasmina Reza. Her cleverly written God of Carnage will particularly delight anyone who is a parent, as the plot concerns two sets of parents attempting to meet amicably to discuss Alain (Hugo Weaving) and Annette’s (Natasha Herbert) son’s “indiscretion”. Their 11-year-old boy has poked a stick at a playmate, Michel (Geoff Morrell) and Veronique’s (Pamela Rabe) son, in the process knocking out two of his teeth. That’s what young boys do, right? Not so, according to Michel and Veronique.
In true contemporary form, God of Carnage is a one act 90-minute play. The first 45-minutes sets the scene, while the last 45-minutes will reveal why you came to the theatre to see a comedy.
As the plot slowly unravels with much alcohol consumed, the play descends into a farce of delightful proportions. It’s an absolute hoot, with one laugh after another, showcasing Reza’s astute observations of the intricacies of social relationships, albeit the story of two children fighting being trivial and not exactly earth-shattering.
God of Carnage is parental warfare. Who will take sides against whom? Will we be surprised by partners taking potshots against each other? Once? Twice? Three times? This is one funny play where we discover the real children are not those in the playground, after all.
On Broadway this year, God of Carnage created history in being the only play to have the entire cast nominated for a Tony. Granted, there’s only four actors, but each of them were nominated for either Best Actor or Best Actress in a Play. While Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) missed out, Marcia Gay Harden won the Tony, as did the direction and the play itself.
The MTC cast forms a tight ensemble, something necessary in a play such as Carnage. Hugo Weaving does not disappoint as Alain, demonstrating the expressive nuances theatre and film audiences over the years have grown to appreciate him for. Pamela Rabe is outstanding as Veronique, passionately fierce one moment, hilarious the next. Natasha Herbert’s character builds slowly until the once meek Annette explodes into a tour de force, while Geoff Morrell plays Michel with skill and conviction.
God of Carnage is playing at the Playhouse, Arts Centre, until 3 October.