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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Jacobs


  Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini/Ph: Joan Marcus

Watching Yasmina Reza's latest farce is like being strapped into an electric chair, and having jolts of various intensities administered for 90 minutes. As with her mega-hit Art, the set-up is simple. Two couples, Alan and Annette (Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis) and Michael and Veronica ( James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden ), meet to discuss a family grievance -the 11-year old son of the former has bashed in the teeth of the latter's boy in a playground altercation. Michael and Veronica have drawn up a statement about the incident, which Alan and Annette have agreed to sign. They agree to change one word, but this slight hiccup in the proceedings is enough to set off a chin reaction of explosions, as battle lines are drawn and redrawn.

The conflict between the couples is just the start. There is a class war, as Alan , a cold fish corporate lawyer, and Michael, a wholesaler, grapple- that Alan's pharmaceutical client, to whom he's glued via cellphone, is manufacturing an iffy drug that Michael's elderly mom is taking ratchets up the comic tension (and the phone calls that fly between Michael and his mother may remind Sopranos fans of Gandolfini 's parental problems on the show). Dueling intellects come into play, as Veronica, a brainy culture writer, takes on all comers, including Annette, a high-strung "wealth manager" whose nervous stomach comes undone all over Michael and Veronica's coffee table books in a brilliantly timed sequence. That the war between the sexes will rear its ugly head is a given- unpredictably, Alan and Veronica, and Michael and Annette, will also ally. Toward the end, Reza finally throws the switch full-tilt on her cunning contraption of a play- but the effect is more likely to draw tears as laughter, as another, outside perspective is introduced.

It was Davis, a Brooklyn resident, who suggested that the Paris-set play be relocated to Cobble Hill, and anyone who has spent any time on the neighborhood's parenting websites will feel a shock of recogniition. Reza and her frequent translator Christopher Hampton have fluidly transitioned the show into New York, aided by a quartet of actors at the top of their game (Harden's fearsomely funny performance is a career peak). As last season's comic hit Boeing-Boeing proved, director Matthew Warchus is a master at getting his casts to bounce off the walls...and the floors, ceilings, and tables, too on Mark Thompson's half-primal, half-urbane set. Ralph Fiennes and Isabelle Huppert starred in European productions of the show, but it's on Broadway that it has reached its purest expression. What God of Carnage has to say about the state we're in is bound to make you uneasy once you leave the theater-but as it's hitting you from every direction you'll be too giddy to care.


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