PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With The Cast of God of Carnage

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With The Cast of God of Carnage
 
It's difficult get four stars the caliber of James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden.
Marcia Gay Harden (top) and Hope Davis in God of Carnage
Marcia Gay Harden (top) and Hope Davis in God of Carnage Photo by Joan Marcus

It's perhaps harder getting all four to sit down and be interviewed at the same time. But the producers of the now-in-previews Broadway production of French playwright Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage did just that. On a recent weekday morning, the four actors — all of whom are parents — talked about their characters, all of whom are parents. The comedy has to do with two couples (Gandolfini is paired with Harden, and Daniels with Davis) who meet to hash out a fight that their two sons had on the playground. As might be expected, and as Daniels puts it, "This can't go well." Here is part of the conversation:

Playbill.com: The play is now set in America now, correct?
James Gandofini: Mm-hm. No, I'm not playing a Frenchman.
Marcia Gay Harden: It was actually French when they did it in London. Yasmina Reza said she thought it was the right thing to do, and it's the first time she's ever done that with one of her plays. It's really wonderful for us. It makes it more pertinent. You don't want people to look at it and go, "Oh, the French behave like that." We want them to go, "This is a human experience."
Jeff Daniels: We're setting it in Brooklyn, but it could be anywhere.

Playbill.com: Any particular neighborhood in Brooklyn?
JG: Cobble Hill.
Hope Davis: That area.
JG: Upscale. Put it that way.

Playbill: So is it the blondes versus the brunettes in the play?
MGH: I'm really blonde.
HD: And I'm really brunette. (Laughs)

Playbill.com: The play is about an altercation between two children on a schoolyard. And you all have children. How close to home is the story for you?
HD: My children have never done anything wrong or had altercations of any kind. (All laugh.) He [Daniels] has grown children.
JD: Yeah, my kids are in their 20s. Yeah, you get very parental, very protective of any other parent parenting your child. Even any kind of subtle remark. It's instant. I think it's a very universal situation.
MGH: It's a hysterical, funny, outrageous play.
JD: This situation can't go well. (All laugh.)
MGH: And the worse it goes, the better it will be for you, watching, on some level. You think about New Yorkers, kids in school whether private or not — the boys go to school together, but the parents don't necessarily know each other. There is no more tense situation than those parents getting together to discuss their kids. And the snarkier it gets, the funnier it gets. But it has to be based on something real. Our director Matthew Warchus says it's a funny tragedy. And that is why I think the play is better than, quote, "just a comedy," because it has a resonance to it.
JG: When I saw it in London and I walked out of the theatre, people were happy, but saying, "I thought this couple ended up like this. I thought this couple ended up like that." I just listened and thought, wow, the people really got involved in this. You don't hear a lot of that. Playbill.com: As a kid, do you remember having any altercations?
HD: I'm one of three girls. My father was overweight and asthmatic, non-sport. I never got punched. I never got into a fight. But in the day when I was young, my family assumed that it was my fault. I think that has changed. Something has switched and I think we've become more protective of our children. I don't know if we expect them to behave as well. I was expected to really behave well.
MGH: I can not think of any place that is not a hotbed of parenting.
JD: And parents are so involved with their children's lives from the third grade on, especially when it comes to sports. I don't know when that changed. But I remember my dad would come to games once in a while when he could get off work. And now we're driving to Buffalo for games. I don't get it.
HD: I think part of it is parents are older. I had my second child when I was 40. My mother was in her early 20s and I think you just have a different approach to parenting. I think when you've waited a long time, you just focus on it in a way that is very different from the way our parents did.
MGH: There's also something really interesting anthropologically in the play. It is that dichotomy of the state of man for the past 50,000 years, and what that person is. And then for the past 5,000 years, there's a certain kind of person. And for the past 50 years, there's a certain kind of person. And for past 15 years — the computer era — there's another kind of person. The body has a memory of all of that — those many years that includes violence; and reproduction, girls reproducing at 13; and lust, and all of that. And now we're going: "Nope! We live in a civilized society. You will not fight and you will not have sexual drive." The animal body has a different memory from our mind's past, little short memory. And that's part of the fight in the play.
JG: (To Harden) When were you going to tell us this stuff? (All laugh)

Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini in <i>God of Carnage</i>
Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini in God of Carnage Photo by Joan Marcus
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