The God of Carnage (2006) is a remarkable play by the French playwright Yasmina Reza. After winning many awards in its original French, the English translation by Christopher Hampton won both Britain’s Olivier Award and Broadway’s Tony Award for Best Play. Stars including Ralph Fiennes, Janet McTeer, Isabelle Huppert, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Jimmy Smits, Annie Potts, Dylan Baker, and Lucy Liu have lined up to play the four parts in the play.
The story is simple, two couples, slightly older than average parents, professional and seemingly refined, get together for a civil discussion of what should be done after one couple’s son hits the other in the mouth with a branch. What occurs is anything but refined, the “discussion” degenerates into arguments that reveal fractures within the couples, underlying sexism, other bigotries, professional abuses, and alcohol problems.
It’s a dark play, but not one without comedy. The characters are complex and full of subtleties that would give any book group plenty to discuss. As with most plays, it would make a great choice in a month when your participants need a quick read.
This would also make a timely selection. A movie (titled just Carnage) featuring Kate Winslett, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, and Christoph Waltz, directed by Roman Polanski and scripted by Reza, is set for a December release. It’s no stretch to think that Oscars might be added to the award list for Carnage.
Reza is a Frenchwoman, the daughter of two Jewish immigrants, her father Iranian, her mother Hungarian. She began as an actress, but found greater success as a playwright. Other plays such as Art, The Unexpected Man, and Conversations after a Burial are also available in English translation. She’s one of our foremost modern dramatists, and one that readers ought to get to know.