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March 27, 2009

TT: Beating up the bourgeoisie

The Broadway season is now in high gear, and so am I. In today's Wall Street Journal drama column I cover three openings, God of Carnage, Exit the King, and Impressionism. Here's an excerpt.

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Yasmina Reza is back on Broadway with another of her slightly pretentious, consummately effective comedies of middle-class manners, and Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini (that's Tony Soprano to you) and Marcia Gay Harden are playing it for all it's worth. In "God of Carnage" we spend 90 action-packed minutes eavesdropping on two married couples whose children got into a schoolyard scrap that turned bloody. The couples have met in order to work things out in a civilized manner, but by play's end things have gotten way, way, way out of hand, everyone is more than half in the bag and the audience has laughed itself well past silly....

While "God of Carnage" is much funnier than "Life x 3," Ms. Reza's last Broadway outing, it bears a similar family resemblance to "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" The difference is that "God of Carnage" is much shorter and far less serious than "Virginia Woolf." It is, in truth, a knockabout farce whose "moral" is a spoonful of medicine to help the sugar go down, and Matthew Warchus ("Boeing-Boeing") has staged it with bristling vigor and hair-trigger timing. Everyone in the cast is terrific, especially Ms. Davis...

EXIT%20THE%20KING.jpgUnlike "God of Carnage," which pretends to be deeper than it is, Eugène Ionesco's "Exit the King" is the real thing, a full-fledged absurdist satire whose unlikely presence on Broadway can only be explained by the fact that Susan Sarandon is in the cast. The premise is thoroughly Ionescoan: King Berenger the First (Geoffrey Rush), a tyrant who is 400 years old and failing fast, is informed by his first wife (Ms. Sarandon) that he will die "in an hour and a half...at the end of the show." He declines to go quietly. Horrific hijinks ensue, followed by the king's scheduled demise. Blackout--and I do mean black.

Ionesco called "Exit the King" "an attempt at an apprenticeship in dying," a description which, though perfectly accurate as far as it goes, fails to convey the macabre gusto of this now-ludicrous, now-terrifying parable of dissolution and resignation. Mr. Rush, however, gets the point right in the heart: The decayed flamboyance of his performance as the dying king is the stuff Tonys are made of....

Next to nothing need be said about Michael Jacobs' "Impressionism," an off-the-rack weeper-with-jokes about an August-October romance between a lonely art dealer (Joan Allen) and a washed-up photographer (Jeremy Irons). Mr. Jacobs writes TV scripts, and "Impressionism" plays like one--the scene changes are too frequent and too slow--but the chemistry between Ms. Allen and Mr. Irons is strong enough to obscure the fact that their lines are as predictable as the décor in a chain motel....

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted March 27, 2009 12:00 AM

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