|GOD OF CARNAGE|
About halfway through Yasmina Reza's brutal and brilliant comedy of no manners, the gloves really come off. As in Greek tragedy, no actual blood is shed onstage (although there's a disturbingly realistic vomiting incident), but verbally it's a minor massacre. Two couples, who've come together to discuss a nasty fight that wounded one of their 11-year-old sons, toss aside any pretense of civilized behavior and let loose on each other. They stop short of throwing punches but hurl around enough insults for a 12-round bout, as expensive flowers are strewn about and a constantly ringing BlackBerry is submerged in water.
Things begin with only minor discomfort. Michael and Veronica (James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden) invite Alan and Annette (Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis) to their tony Brooklyn apartment (Mark Thompson's blood-red set is a fine touch) to try to straighten out the situation, but rancor soon pervades. Perhaps it's because Veronica is so seemingly serene and liberal that Harden's character emerges as the most hypocritical and exasperating — or it could simply be Harden's electrifying performance. She's well matched by Daniels' acerbic Alan, a raging lawyer beset by a barrage of dicey phone calls. Davis dives into her ostensibly fragile character with ferocity, and Gandolfini nicely lets his character's aggressive side gradually emerge.
But even at 90 minutes the play, translated from the French by noted British dramatist Christopher Hampton, is coasting on fumes by the end. Reza isn't interested in exploring the softer side of the seemingly sophisticated set, just exposing them at their worst. And the worst can be wonderfully good.
By DIANE SNYDER
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Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
242 West 45th Street
New York, NY 10036