God Of Carnage

There’s something exhilarating about watching great actors perform.  It’s like watching Michael Jordan sink a basket with tenths of a second left on the clock, or watching Jeff Beck wring notes from his guitar.  Surrounded by mediocrity, our eyes bug out when we’re exposed to brilliance.

Everybody wants us to settle for mediocrity.  It’s good enough.  It makes money.  Everybody else is happy, why aren’t you?

"God Of Carnage" was on the periphery of my vision.  Theatre takes place in New York.  By time the production gets to Los Angeles the buzz is gone and so are the stars.  But in this case, the stars came back.

Marcia Gay Harden overacts in the beginning.  But then she crosses that line from well-behaved to I don’t give a fuck and we’re riveted, because we’ve all been there.

Jeff Daniels will forever get a pass from me because of his wonderful performance in "Something Wild", going from someone who can’t be honest with himself to one who rises to the occasion, after deciding to let go and go with the flow, which is so difficult for those of us who grew up saddled with the expectations of our parents, going to college and getting a good job and doing what we should do instead of succumbing to temptation.  But Mr. Daniels is only great here.  Whereas the other actors transcend.

Like Hope Davis.  When she blossoms near the end of the play, drunk on rum, with long arms and legs extended, you’re exposed to the inner life of those who are so busy toeing the line that we have no idea who they really are.  Sure, alcohol helps, but unlike Meryl Streep, we don’t see Ms. Davis acting.  She has become the role.

And then there’s James Gandolfini.  Arguably the biggest star of the ensemble after the triumph of "The Sopranos", the best drama ever made for television.  At first Mr. Gandolfini is so busy playing against type that we’re disappointed, but when he finally explodes and lets go we’re frightened the same way we were in that Mafia show.  We’re just not sure of his limits, we’re just not sure he’s going to color inside the lines.

Gandolfini claims he’s a Neanderthal.

This is after Daniels says his son is a savage.

The piercing of the veil to honesty is striking.  That’s when art touches us.  When it speaks a truth that normally goes unspoken.

There’s that playful moment when Ms. Harden and Mr. Gandolfini are making fun of the other couple, imitating them.  If you haven’t been here, I feel sorry for your relationship.  Your spouse should be a co-conspirator, someone on your side who you can laugh at the absurdity of life with.

But then it all becomes so complicated.  Spouses switch sides.  Enemies become friends.  Convention is cast aside and truth is revealed.

But the truth that scared me most emanated from Mr. Gandolfini’s lips.

It’s in reaction to his wife’s description of him.  Ms. Harden says:

"I live with a man who has decided once and for all that life is synonymous with mediocrity. It’s very hard to live with a man who’s walled himself up in that notion, who doesn’t want to change anything, who never gets excited about anything."

Life, ain’t it a bitch.

Mr. Gandolfini’s character is a wholesaler.  Of household goods.  When he embellishes his identity by making reference to a fictional employee in Secaucus we’re reminded not only of the lies we tell to boost our status, but that we need to do so because inside we’re insecure.  Furthermore, you wake up one day and ask if this is it, is this why you struggle, for what? To be miserable every single day?

Then Mr. Gandolfini says:

"Children soak up our lives, then they blow them apart. Children lead us to disaster, it’s like a law of nature. You see these young couples, laughing all the way to the altar, and you think they don’t know. Poor bastards don’t know a thing. They’re happy. Nobody briefs you in the beginning. This army buddy of mine is going to have a kid with his new girlfriend. I say to him, a kid at our age, what are you stupid? You got ten, fifteen good years left before you get cancer or have a stroke and you’re going to saddle yourself with a fucking kid?"


Nobody tells you that marriage is misery.

Then again, nobody wants to admit that life is so terrible you just don’t want to go through it alone.  All the petty losses, if you can’t share them with someone, if you can’t blow off steam, you’re unable to carry on.  Same with the triumphs.  There’s truth in that cliche that life’s victories have no meaning if you’ve got no one to share them with.

Then you die.

A friend of mine died.  We weren’t best buds, but we knew each other and he was barely sixty and ultra-rich but it didn’t matter, the Big C got him.  Seems that sometime after fifty, maybe a little bit after sixty, the Big C looms in everybody’s life. No one escapes.

Makes you wonder about the time you spent in the sun and the food you ate and the air you breathed but it’s too late, those cells are mutating and you’re struggling to stay alive, even though only moments before you weren’t sure life was worth living.

You see we’re all drowning.  And when we realize this we want to shed baggage, cut commitments and rise to the surface. We’re gulping for air, we don’t want to be brought back down.  We want to have hope, we want to believe.

But it’s hard to have hope.  In a world where when you’re in school everybody tells you what to do, and thereafter no one gives a shit.

How do you make sense of it all?

Through art.

Tickets were not cheap, but it costs more to see a hit musical act and the venues are bigger and it’s all business and too often soulless.  Whereas theatre, which is nearly ignored in America, can touch your heart and stay with you for days, because of the truth involved.

I’m sure it’s great to be a star.  Whether it be movies or music.

But it’s really about the performance.

And the performance is all about the underlying work.  The play, the songs.  No matter how great you are, if the words are substandard, you fail, even if you get paid.

But when the script and the delivery align, not only do the actors soar, but the audience too.

I was soaring last night.

Comments are closed