The Art of Carnage

The Art of Carnage Tony Award winner Yasmina Reza brings a razor wit and profound understanding of human subtleties to her God of Carnage.
Yasmina Reza
Yasmina Reza Photo by Carole Bellaiche

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The French playwright-gone-global, Yasmina Reza, crochets plays more than she writes them, starting small and building big, taking the thread of an inconsequential narrative and connecting it to themes of end-all-and-be-all Importance.

More than a gift, it's art. Her Art — the one that rang up $200 million in 30 languages, earning the top theatre prize in at least three countries (the Molière, the Olivier and the Tony) — pretends to be about three pals who fall out over an all-white painting, but it's really about the fragility of male friendship. Similarly, her God of Carnage starts out as a peace-pipe powwow between two sets of parents and disintegrates into a warpath that blows a hole in bourgeois pretenses.

There are only a few degrees of separation between Reza and the fact-based story she tells of the schoolyard fight her son's friend had when he was 11. That was all Reza needed. "The idea of the play just came to me: Two couples with kids meet because their children had a fight. They are very civilized. They come together in very good spirits, hoping to be tolerant and not at all like their children. But, gradually, they can't stand the politeness, and everything starts to fall apart."

The first time she saw Le Dieu de Carnage — in December of 2006 — it was in German. In March of 2008 she restored it to the original French and directed Isabelle Huppert in a Paris edition; later that same month, Christopher Hampton's English translation opened in London. Now, at the Jacobs Theatre on Broadway, here come the Yanks: James Gandolfini, Hope Davis, Jeff Daniels and Marcia Gay Harden, in a slightly more American-friendly text (it's set in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn) from Hampton, directed by Matthew Warchus. "It's a wonderful cast — and very American — so they have to speak American," she says. "We re-translated the play from French to American, which is sometimes not at all the same as translating it into English. I always wrote different things — plays, novels, nonfiction, screenplays. I was never only a playwright."

In fact, she entered the business as an actress, and the actor's life informed the author's life. "It has changed the way I write. I have never written any small parts. I think I am totally incapable of it. I don't want an actor standing around in the wings, waiting to say two sentences."

Reza's wit is razor wit, and it often comes quite naturally out of her dramatic situations. "Matthew [Warchus] once said in an interview something very accurate about me. He said I write funny tragedy." Clearly, the contradictory phrase sits well with her. "It's not sad comedy. It's funny tragedy."

Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis, Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini
Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis, Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini