From the Director
God of Carnage
By Yasmina Reza
September 2013 Tour & November 2014
In the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, two sets of parents, Alan, a corporate lawyer, and Annette, who works in “wealth management,” visit the apartment of Michael, a wholesaler, and Veronica, a writer, to discuss how to deal with an unfortunate incident that occurred in Cobble Hill Park the previous day. Following a “verbal altercation,” Alan and Annette’s son, Freddy, hit Michael and Veronica’s son, Bruno, with a stick, breaking two of his teeth. The parents have gathered to discuss, rationally and amicably, how to deal with the boys.
ABOUT THE PLAY
God of Carnage was inspired on a real-life experience. Reza explains, “There was a little incident in the life of my son. He was then about thirteen and fourteen and his friend was in a fight with another friend; they exchanged blows and my son’s friend had his tooth broken. A few days later, I met with the mother of this boy in the street. I asked her how her son was, if he was better, because I knew they’d had to do something to the tooth—they’d had to operate or something. And she said, ‘Can you imagine? The parents (of the other boy in the fight) didn’t even call me.’”
The resulting work was Le Dieu du Carnage (God of Carnage), one of the most popular and acclaimed plays of the last ten years. First performed in Zürich in 2006, it opened in London in March, 2008, in a translation by Christopher Hampton. The London production won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. The play premiered on Broadway in 2009 and won Best Play at the 2009 Tony Awards. The Broadway production closed on June 6, 2010 playing twenty-four previews and 452 regular performances. It is the third-longest running play of the 2000’s. In 2011 it was adapted to film as Carnage, directed by Roman Polanski, starring Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster.
Influences of Shakespeare on Yasmina Reza
Among the influences of Shakespeare evident in Yasmina Reza’s plays are the following:
ACCESSIBILITY TO THE AUDIENCE OF THE TIME
As Shakespeare never forgot the audience of his time—even though it ranged from the groundlings to royalty and the intellectual community—Reza’s work maintains an appeal the everyday life and human nature of the audience of her time. For Shakespeare, the appeal has lived on through 400 years, but only as it started by piquing the interest of his original audience at a level of universal humanity that has continued its appeal through history. Reza’s plays are not aimed at any particular audience, and therefore offer an appeal to a wide and disparate base. She has said, “There’s no point in writing theatre if it isn’t accessible, because no one will see it. The greatest playwrights such as Shakespeare or Molière—to whom, by the way, I am not comparing myself—they were also accessible.”
COMMON THEMES OF MAINTAINING ACCEPTABLE CONDUCT UNDER A VENEER OF CIVILITY
Audiences often discover that the best behavior of many of the characters in Shakespeare’s comedies are thin and fragile veneers maintained for the purpose of manipulating public opinion (think of Beatrice and Benedict at the height of their civility). In Reza’s work, her characters often struggle to maintain similar veneers, and when those disguises disintegrate, the “real” character comes forth.
ARTFULLY CRAFTED DIALOGUE, INVENTION OF WORDS
The quality and artistry of Shakespeare’s dialogue set a world standard in his earliest plays. When he needed new words and phrases, he invented them or borrowed them from other languages. Today Reza’s writes in French, but her plays have been translated into a number of other languages. When translated into English, she has found that American English is superior to the formality of British English. She says, “American English is much closer to French than British English is. English is a beautiful language, but in England it’s very formal and doesn’t allow invention. American English is informal, keen to take influences, to invent words, just as I write in French.” Further, she notes, “I write from my intuition, my sense of freedom, my feeling for words and rhythm.” Shakespeare, of course, always wrote with a keen sense for words and rhythm.
A CLEAR VIEW INTO CHARACTERS’ PSYCHES
Shakespeare gave his audiences a look into the psyche of his characters, sometimes using soliloquy, but often using dialogue to reveal the driving forces within—along with the confusion that accompanies intense emotional conflicts. At the same time, he did not belabor his audiences by dwelling on childhood causes for his characters’ current psychological states. Similarly, Reza doesn’t seek to explain or deconstruct her characters’ backgrounds for the audience. She says of her characters, “I’m not interested in what they were like as children, in psychoanalysis, because writing is totally instinctive. I work like a painter. If a painter is doing a portrait of someone, he’s not interested in their childhood; he paints what he sees. There’s no explanation because it doesn’t mean anything.” Reza uses dialogue, permitting her characters to “spill” themselves to the audience through conversation with another character. As a result, the audience is able to enjoy a similar degree of dramatic irony as a Shakespearean audience.
A CHALLENGE TO SELF-KNOWLEDGE
Shakespeare’s plays are not openly didactic, but several offer his audiences opportunities to make observations about human nature that they can take home and apply to their own lives. Reza’s work often offers similar, and perhaps less subtle, challenges to self-knowledge through the characters and plots of her plays.
CLEAR PORTRAITS OF HUMAN NATURE THROUGH CHARACTERIZATION
Shakespeare was a master observer of human nature and an unchallenged artist in creating characters that bring portraits of human nature to the stage. Reza has also shown a real talent at singling out the subtleties of human nature and staging them clearly for the discovery and enjoyment of her audiences as well.