While PJ and I were in NYC last month, we saw four plays/musicals, including God of Carnage, which won the Tony for Best Play last year. We try to keep abreast of the best play winners, so PJ especially wanted to see this one. The original cast, which included James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden, has already departed from the show. It now stars Christine Lahti, Jimmy Smits, and Annie Potts, all of whom we were looking forward to seeing.

The play centers around a meeting between two sets of parents. One of their sons has hit the other couple’s son with a stick, knocking out some of his teeth, during a playground brawl. Both couples begin the meeting by wanting to keep things polite and friendly, but as they realize that the playground incident is more complex than just one kid bullying another they also begin to fight among themselves over other issues. A few drinks later, everyone is screaming at everyone else.

All four members of the cast were good in their roles. Smits plays a big time lawyer who is constantly interrupted by one of his major clients calling him on his cellphone. He is married to Potts’ character, a wealth manager, and the two of them are the parents of the kid who hit the other one. Potts is great as a mother torn between wanting to keep everything friendly and her pride that her son has beaten up the other kid rather than be a “pussy” or a “fag.” Lahti plays the other mother. She wants to protect her son, who isn’t quite as innocent as she would like to believe, and wants the other kid punished. Her husband is played by Ken Stott, who acted in the London production of this play.

While I thought this production, the performances, and the play were all ok, I didn’t end up loving this work. There’s something off-putting about four characters standing around yelling at each other, saying things that are seemingly meant to be profound but end up just being a bunch of cliches. I recently talked to one of my colleagues in the English Department about the play, and she pointed out that she doesn’t enjoy works that depict marriage as nothing more than warfare.

Here’s a story about the new cast that gives a pretty good taste of what God of Carnage is:

The play does seem to embrace a vision of human relationships as warfare and seems to want to point out the carnage that results. But it just doesn’t seem all that insightful about it. I would contrast it to a work like August: Osage County, a play that seems to be about a lot more than just people yelling at each other. Maybe I just wasn’t getting it. At any rate, I found The Understudy, the other play we saw on this trip, to be a much more entertaining and interesting play.

One good things did some of it, though: we now know what clafoutis is (the characters were eating this dessert throughout their meeting), and PJ has even made one using Julia Child’s recipe. It came out pretty well, though we forgot to take any pictures of it. He’ll have to make another one sometime so we can blog about it.