Friday, December 11, 2009

Fresh "Carnage"

Photo by Joan Marcus

Does Yasmina Reza's Tony-winning God of Carnage still rock without its stellar original cast? (Original post here.) Apart from Elisabeth Vincentelli at the New York Post, most critics give the new replacements a qualified yes, appreciating anew the play's merits (and flaws) and Matthew Warchus' direction, though splitting hairs over which new performances are best and which are less so. There are mostly kudos for the women, Christine Lahti and Annie Potts, replacing Marcia Gay Harden and Hope Davis, respectively (note: John Simon's review for Bloomberg News transposes the names). A few ding Jimmy Smits for his overly slick turn in the Jeff Daniels role, and there's some dissent on Ken Stott, a Scot who played the role in London but here has the unenviable task of filling James Gandolfini's Shrek-sized shoes. While the Daily News' Joe Dziemianowicz calls Stott "now the most compelling reason to see 'God of Carnage,' " the Bergen Record's Robert Feldberg finds his casting, and his pairing with Lahti, inexplicable and distracting, though he adds that the play "is still one of the smartest and most amusing evenings on Broadway."

Other critics may stop short of that encomium, but seem to agree that the show still works: John Simon at Bloomberg says it "still summons stentorian laughter from new audiences" but advises "would-be hold on to their memories." Theatermania's David Finkle (newly inducted into the New York Drama Critic's Circle, by the way) raves that the new actors are "just as hilariously and woundingly effective as their celebrated predecessors." And Talkin' Broadway's Matthew Murray, also a Stott fan, even thinks that "in spite of the ways it’s stumbled - just a little bit - God of Carnage is stronger for the difference" in casting. At the NY Times, Charles Isherwood reiterates some of his initial misgivings about the play, but pronounces that "the generally excellent new cast brings a slightly blunter edge to this primal rite" and that "under Matthew Warchus’s precise direction, the play definitely retains its appeal as a superficial but potent entertainment." Variety's David Rooney echoes Simon, writing that while the new God may not merit a revisit, "For those unable to score tickets during the mostly sold-out eight-month run, this undignified spectacle is most definitely still worth experiencing." From the headline, we guess that Newsday's Linda Winer seems to share the consensus ("Still amuses but less brutally"), but we can't be sure because her review is hidden behind a subscribers-only pay wall. Finally, for her part, Elisabeth Vincentelli at the Post writes that while the original cast "delivered hits with the precision -- and ruthlessness -- of champion fencers," with the new cast "the agility's gone, and the swords are blunted."

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