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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama


The God of Carnage

Yasmina Reza

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To purchase The God of Carnage

Title: The God of Carnage
Author: Drama
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 67 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The God of Carnage - US
The God of Carnage - UK
The God of Carnage - Canada
Le dieu du carnage - Canada
The God of Carnage - India
Le dieu du carnage - France
Der Gott des Gemetzels - Deutschland
Il dio del massacro - Italia
Un dios salvaje - España
  • French title: Le dieu du carnage
  • Translated by Christopher Hampton
  • Le dieu du carnage was made into the film Carnage in 2011, directed by Roman Polanski and starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, and Christoph Waltz

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Our Assessment:

B : predictable, but enjoyable enough

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly A- 22/3/2009 Thom Geier
Evening Standard . 26/3/2008 Nicholas de Jongh
L'Express . 4/2/2008 Laurence Liban
Financial Times D- 25/3/2009 Brendan Lemon
The Guardian . 26/3/2008 Michael Billington
The Independent . 27/3/2008 Alice Jones
NZZ . 4/12/2006 Barbara Villiger Heilig
New York B- 25/3/2009 Scott Brown
The NY Observer . 31/3/2009 John Heilpern
The NY Times . 23/3/2009 Ben Brantley
The New Yorker . 30/3/2009 John Lahr
The Observer . 30/3/2008 Susannah Clapp
The Telegraph . 1/4/2008 Charles Spencer
Time . 6/4/2009 Richard Zoglin
The Times . 26/3/2008 Benedict Nightingale
USA Today A- 23/3/2009 Elysa Gardner
The Village Voice . 31/3/2009 Michael Feingold
Wall Street Journal . 27/3/2009 Terry Teachout
Die Welt A 12/2/2008 Monika Nellissen

  Review Consensus:

  For the most par think the text is fairly unremarkable, but most find it can work well on stage

  From the Reviews:
  • "Reza has established herself as a master of middlebrow social satires, magnificently constructed plays that reveal the character and contradictions of various types, that insert just enough highbrow references (clafouti, Darfur) to suggest a greater depth, and that gallop to a final curtain in an efficient hour and a half, without intermission. God of Carnage is true to form. In addition, it's enormously fun to watch" - Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly

  • "Yasmina Reza’s God Of Carnage, elegantly translated by Christopher Hampton, offers a funny, 90-minute exposure of this hypocritical process, of the fall from phoney grace to disgrace." - Nicholas de Jongh, Evening Standard

  • "De round en round, Yasmina Reza nourrit le dieu du carnage jusqu'à ce que seul l'essentiel subsiste: une voix mince au bord des larmes pour sauver ce qui reste." - Laurence Liban, L'Express

  • "(T)his piece of shallow arrogance -- funny ? (...) Hampton’s rendering is at times artificial. (...) I detest the pathetic complicity between this author and her audiences: Reza shows educated, middle-class people showing their animal natures -- the primitive beneath the proper -- and audiences howl. God knows that people need a jolt of humour right now, yet when I left the theatre, I thought: I’ll never laugh again." - Brendan Lemon, Financial Times

  • "(I)f anything, the play is too short to be a wholly plausible metaphor for the decline of western civilisation. (...) Reza's commercial success is often held against her; but here, as so often, she holds the mirror up to bourgeois hypocrisy with the savage indignation of a born satirist." - Michael Billington, The Guardian

  • "Reza has proved that she can skewer the middle classes like no other, revelling in the grotesque prejudices not only of her characters but also of the audience. This time though, the playwright has done it almost too well, to the point that her play becomes nearly unwatchable. It's clear that Reza wants to confront bigger themes but it's a direction which sits uncomfortably with her penchant for broad humour and this curious hybrid of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Ayckbourn-esque farce left me feeling distinctly queasy." - Alice Jones, The Independent

  • "Mit bewundernswertem Feingespür führt Yasmina Reza den vierstimmigen Dialog (in den sich per Handy und per Telefon weitere Stimmen einschalten: Michels Mutter, stellt sich heraus, nimmt ausgerechnet jenes inkriminierte Medikament, über das Alain mit dem Pharmakonzern verhandelt). Immer weitere Elemente tauchen auf, komplizieren die Lage und verhindern, dass man endlich auseinandergeht." - Barbara Villiger Heilig, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Pow! Biff! The hits just keep coming. So why does God of Carnage, for all its witty anarchy and farcical cheek, feel a little flabby in the gut, a little punch-drunk and glass-jawed—and, even at 85 minutes, a little padded ? Maybe because it’s all too easy. This fight feels fixed: the punches telegraphed, the reversals rehearsed. (...) That's God of Carnage in a nutshell: 30 thrilling minutes of hurricane warnings, followed by a nasty cloudburst that just won't end. You can feel the play trying mightily to shut itself down -- characters head for the door, only to dive back into the fray for more, as if Reza herself were just offstage with a cattle prod. " - Scott Brown, New York

  • "(A) welcome boulevard comedy polished to a high gloss by her frequent translator, Christopher Hampton. (...) Thankfully, Ms. Reza makes only fleeting allusion to the tragedy of civil war in Darfur, while her boisterous 85-minute light comedy proves a triumph of escalating farce." - John Heilpern, The New York Observer

  • "A study in the tension between civilized surface and savage instinct, this play (which recently won the Olivier Award in London for best new comedy) is itself a satisfyingly primitive entertainment with an intellectual veneer. (...) But the play is far more interesting (and subtle) in its shifting ballet of emotions and loyalties among its fractious quartet. (...) Still, on the page the play doesn’t amount to much. It needs the fine-honed idiosyncrasies and unconditional commitment to unsympathetic characters that the actors here provide." - Ben Brantley, The New York Times

  • "In ninety minutes of sustained mayhem, however, Reza wipes the masks of sang-froid off her whole monstrous regiment and demonstrates just how thin a line lies between civility and barbarity." - John Lahr, The New Yorker

  • "As always with Reza, everything hangs on the casting. She's a writer for the stage not the page: a creator of vessels for actors to fill. Performers of her work will have to look hard for an unforgettable pungent phrase (has anyone ever said: only Yasmina Reza could have put it like that?), but not at all hard for singular theatrical shocks, shrewd circumstantial detail and soliloquies that give them a moment in the sun with a big central subject. (...) Reza gets something of a makeover in London, where Christopher Hampton's terrific idiomatic translation turns every insult into an elegant joke: the playwright, who worries that British audiences laugh at her plays (she thinks of them as tragedies), may not like that." - Susannah Clapp, The Observer

  • "Reza takes her own work extremely seriously, insisting that she really writes profound tragedies rather than elegant comedies, but fortunately her English translator Christopher Hampton always proves extremely generous with the jokes." - Charles Spencer, The Telegraph

  • "I'm not sure how you can take seriously a play whose comic coup de théâtre (it gets uproarious laughter) is a scene of projectile vomiting. But it's typical of Reza's quest for easy laughs at the expense of her superficially serious theme: the familiar one that civilized upper-middle-class people are really barbarians underneath" - Richard Zoglin, Time

  • "(T)he effect is tense, edgy and funny. The problem, as the title hints, is that Reza wants us to see her molehill as a mountain. Her subjects come to embrace African genocide, conflict resolution, restorative justice and the moral nature of us human animals -- and, though she might retort that microcosms may imply macrocosms or acorns signify oaks, the play cannot bear such weight. (...) Sometimes I felt that Reza’s scepticism, rather than human logic, was manipulating her characters and determining their misbehaviour. But again and again I found myself delighted by her incisive observation, her acerbic wit, her shrewd humour -- and her stunning cast." - Benedict Nightingale, The Times

  • "(S)cabrously funny" - Elysa Gardner, USA Today

  • "Reza is clever -- exceptionally clever, this time around -- at inventing little distractions to conceal the pattern from those who don't cotton on quickly, but these sidebars never deepen the basic premise or materially advance the narrative. Human beings are either A or B or an ungainly combination of both, and for her, that's really all there is to it." - Michael Feingold, The Village Voice

  • "It is, in truth, a knockabout farce whose "moral" is a spoonful of medicine to help the sugar go down" - Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal

  • "Wir erkennen uns, lachen uns scheckig. Ein wunderbar intelligenter, b&oum;sartig liebevoller Text." - Monika Nellissen, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The God of Carnage begins with what appears to be an amicable attempt to deal with an unpleasant situation: Annette and Alain Reille have come over the house of Véronique and Michel Vallon to discuss their son's assault on the Vallon boy, which resulted in some broken teeth.
       It is a scene of civility and civilization -- around: "a coffee table, covered with art books" --, the scene opening with them trying to settle on the exact wording of a statement they can agree to -- questions such as: was little Ferdinand "armed with a stick", or "furnished with a stick" which he then bashed Bruno's face in with ? There's a slight undertone of tension -- did Bruno rat his playmate out ? was Ferdinand provoked ? is it just a case of boys will be boys ? -- but it all seems very civilized. Of course, it doesn't stay that way for long: Reza likes to show how superficial everything bourgeois is (and everyone in her worlds is always bourgeois), and how readily the false front can come crashing down (as it invariably does in her plays). The kids are lucky to get off with some broken teeth .....
       Enjoyably here, it is not just one couple versus another, as the various differences lead to different permutations of attackers and defenders, the men ganging up on the women, for example, as Michel helpfully opines: "marriage: the most terrible ordeal God can inflict on you " (quickly elaborating: "Marriage and children"). There's an unpleasant side to each of the characters, from Michel, who threw his son's hamster into the street, to lawyer Alain, who keeps answering his cellphone to deal with a pharmaceutical company's PR nightmare (until his wife dumps the phone in the vase with the tulips). Bringing out the alcohol doesn't help, and when about halfway through the play Annette throws up all over her husband and, tellingly, the art books, it is pretty clear that there is no chance that things will go well.
       Part of the fun is also that they keep going: characters try to escape, but Reza won't let them, keeping them stewing all together. "Let's get out of her, Alain, these people are monsters !" Annette cries -- and yet they, equally monstrous, stay. They all sense what they've gotten themselves into -- though it's surprisingly late in the proceedings when Véronique voices her concern: "Michel, this is going to end badly". (The main point of Reza's plays is summed up right there: she can't believe anything could possible end well, especially not if a bourgeois married couple with some intellectual pretensions is involved -- much less two.)
       Several of the characters suggest that for one or another of them this may well be the unhappiest day of their lives, but between their out of control tween sons, pet-names such as 'Woof-woof' for their spouses, and the way they act out one can only assume that their other days seem happier solely because they haven't previously allowed all that's wrong with their lives to bubble as readily to the surface.
       Yes, there are a lot of histrionics, but that's part of Reza's point. And for her these foolish people and their foolish lives are always on the precipice -- and she loves giving them the good hearty shove that pushes them over the edge. There's not too much to the play, but it's amusing enough and has theatrical potential -- actors can milk the parts well.
       The God of Carnage is unexceptional, but in its own grimly funny way appealing enough.

       [Note: The original English and American productions of The God of Carnage apparently transplanted the locale to London and New York, respectively, which also led to a changing of the characters' names, etc. The Faber playscript retains the Parisian locale and French names of the characters.]

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 May 2009

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The God of Carnage: Reviews: Carnage - the film: Yasmina Reza: Other Books by Yasmina Reza under Review Other books of interest under review:
  • See the index of Drama at the complete review

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About the Author:

       French author Yasmina Reza, born in 1959, achieved her first great success with the play 'Art'. She has also written fiction and screenplays.

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© 2009-2018 the complete review

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