New York creates in you a sense of Urgency, the feeling that you have failed if you are not in the Front Lines of whatever war it is that you are fighting. So it is that even if you have dined at Le Cirque(I have—elegant but overpriced,) with Royals(I have, --at least they said they were) or seen the best new musical( Billy Elliot—greatly overrated, but the boys were good) and the best new play, you have hardly any right to live here. So it was that having recently fought City Hall( and WON!!) I made my way this Sunday at noon and plunked myself on the floor of the lobby of the Bernie Jacobs theater at noon betting(and praying) there would be a cancellation for God of Carnage, the ticket in town that nobody can get.
Suspense! Drama! Will she get in? The woman in front of me got the last standing room so I would not have that option. The man in the ticket booth was wearing a red white and blue tie with a star and wide stripes so I wished him Happy Puerto Rico Day(I had seen the parade forming as I left my building,) but despite appreciation of my appreciation, he couldn’t tell me what my chances were. My heart leapt a little with every person who approached the window but there were no returns(Meg Ryan was there with her face pretty again, and Glenn Close came, surprisingly tiny.) Tick tock. Finally, on the dot of three, he signaled there was one ticket, and that was mine. J1. On the aisle.
Curtain up. The set is an apartment any New Yorker would be proud to live in, set in Brooklyn, which is hot again, tasteful beige stone walls and cornering vases of long-stemmed white tulips from Holland and the Korean grocer, comfortable sofa and chairs in which are seated the two couples meeting to settle a grievance over one of their sons knocking out two of the other’s teeth in a schoolyard brawl. Hostess is Marcia Gay Harden, married to James Gandolfini, who seemed uncomfortable at first—I could not tell whether it was because he was in a play or that situation—but he loosens up as the audience receives him like family—and we know which family. The moment he talks of being in a ‘gang’ at school, roars of laughter greet him, an old friend they were afraid they might not see again. Jeff Daniels is tight-assed excellent as a high-end lawyer issuing dictums on a cell phone to pull a drug company client out of embarrassing possible damage, and Hope Davis is restrainedly civilized till she isn’t anymore, with projectile vomiting on priceless art books a repellent (but crazily laughed at by a desensitized audience) visual joke.
Gradually restraint and politesse vanishes, and it becomes a free-for-all, freest of all for Marcia Gay Harden, who received a Tony as best actress(a wag on the way out said she “ate the scenery,” but I enjoyed her performance which I considered a relieved, released break out from all the caring wives she has played.) Biggest laugh of the play came from the angry throwing of Daniels’ cellphone into the tulips, as the theater rocked with laughing wives who had probably often been tempted to do the same to their husbands’ cells.
. I was seated next to three young people- an older sister maybe in her early twenties, really pretty, a slightly younger brother, and a much younger brother who doubtless was the wrong age for the play, used to watching TV and movies at home, and kept eating cookies from a rattlingly wax-papered box. Unleashed by the violence onstage when his one wax-paper crackle too many obscured the crackle of the dialogue, I am afraid I leaned over and slapped his hand, so he finally stopped.
I felt guilty, of course. But every once in a while, as the actors demonstrated onstage, bad behavior is only a constrained, frayed irritation away.
A friend asked if I would recommend it, and I would in an instant if anyone could get in without the endurance I had to show, both before and with the pesky little kid down the row. But it is the cast, I think, that made the play memorable, and I am not sure the same people will be retutning when it re-opens after a hiatus. If it does, by all means go. But hope they make an annnouncement to unwrap your sweets before the play starts.