“God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza, Coming to a Theatre near You

“God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza  (2008) – 67 pages   Translated by Christopher Hampton

 As of now you may not have heard of Yasmina Reza or her play “God of Carnage”, but you soon will, you will.  The play has just been turned into a movie “Carnage” directed by Roman Polanski and starring Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly, Jodie Foster, and Christoph Waltz. The movie opened the New York Film Festival on September 30 and is scheduled for general distribution before Christmas. 

 I had the good fortune of seeing the live  “God of Carnage” production  at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota this summer, and after that I read the written version of the play. 

 The setup of the play is quite simple.  One boy punched another boy on the school playground requiring some dental work to fix.  The parents of the boy who got punched invite the parents of the boy who landed the punch over to discuss the incident civilly.  The parents of the boy who got punched are well meaning and expect other people will be good-intentioned also.  The father of the boy who punched is a cutthroat lawyer who is constantly on his cell phone advising his clients, drug companies, on how they can get out of sticky legal situations.  Soon interactions between the two sets of parents become chaos.

'God of Carnage' at the Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis, MN

These four characters are the only characters in the play, and the entire play takes place in the one living room.  There are no intermissions.  This is a perfect play for actors and actresses.  The entire play is the dialogue between these four. 

 This play is a comedy, outrageously humorous, yet never leaves the concrete situation at hand.  Each of the four roles is well-defined, and each stays in character for the play.   Brooke Allen in a review of “God of Carnage” described the play as follows. “What is really clever in this play is the way the alliances between the four characters keep shifting: sometimes its men against women, sometimes couple against couple.  Sometimes we the audience, find ourselves sympathizing with a particular character…only to be repelled by that same character the very next moment.” 

 I have high expectations for the movie, even though I don’t believe Roman Polanski has directed a comedy before.

 The playwright Yasmina Reza is already famous in France, originally as an actress and now for her many plays.

 “Laughter is always a problem… Laughter is very dangerous.  The way people laugh changes  the way you see a play.  A very profound play may seem very light.  My plays have always been described as comedy but I think they’re tragedy.  They are funny tragedy, but they are tragedy.  Maybe it’s a new genre.”

      Yasmina Reza, in “Art and artifice” by Simon Hattenstone, The Guardian, January 1, 2001   

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Hey, this actually is coming to a theatre near me, and not the Polanski version either. (I didn’t even now about the film.) One of my favorite local theatres is putting it on this spring. Last year, they did a production of Reza’s Art and it was a great blend of comedy and serious ideas. I was already excited about God of Carnage, but your review has me more excited.

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  2. Hi Teresa,
    “God of Carnage” has been my favorite play since at least ‘A View from the Bridge’ by Arthur Miller, also at the Guthrie. One of the nice things about Reza’s plays is that they seem to be very accessible. It’s fun seeing well-made comedies. And I certainly would go to the play even if there is a movie with Kate Winslet coming out.

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