Seen on Broadway: A season rich in plays welcomes a sterling quartet in God of Carnage, which promises to create as much a sensation as playwright Yasmina Reza’s Art did a decade ago. Reza specializes in taking an insinuating situation—in this case, two sets of parents falling out as they attempt to sort out a schoolyard bullying incident between their 11-year-old sons—and having the actors give full vent to the exasperation that results as their initial civility collapses. I would have thought that director Matthew Warchus had exhausted the possibilities of stage slapstick with last season’s manic Boeing-Boeing, but here we have Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis squaring off against James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden, and everyone gets Mark Thompson’s character-defining clothes mussed as they fling themselves around his set.
The quick-witted 90-minute show has been reset to Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, with tulip vases and carefully arranged coffee table books that show the refinement of Harden’s writer. But an expanse of scorched earth on the wall, and the blood red carpeting, suggest more primal urges, which the actors indulge as the parents split along gender and class lines, and even regroup, with Harden and Daniels’ cold-fish lawyer pitted against Gandolfini’s wholesaler and Davis’ “wealth manager.” Gary Yershon’s African-influenced music, thumpingly piped through by Simon Baker and Christopher Cronin, underscores the continual crash of worlds onstage, as Hugh Vanstone’s lighting stands back and observes. The illumination, however, is then deployed to heighten a climactic scene, which brings a new perspective into the fray. Special mention must go Rorschach PropFX, the party I assume responsible for a niftily timed vomiting effect. God of Carnage has customers upchucking with laughter at the Bernard B. Jacobs.
Eugene Ionesco’s Exit the King exited Broadway in 1968 following a brief repertory run with Richard Easton, but the Theatre of the Absurd piece has emerged from exile in high style, with an inspired Geoffrey Rush in the lead. The new production (at the Ethel Barrymore) is a transplant from Rush’s native Australia, and he and director Neil Armfield (who directed Rush in the 2006 film Candy, co-starring Heath Ledger) co-translated Ionesco’s text into something that is by turns riotously funny, chilling, languorous, and sometimes just absurd. Rush’s mad, pajama-clad king, who has been on the throne forever, is given the length of the show to live; refusing to accept this diagnosis, he goes on a tear through his checkered history and his present, dismal circumstances in his ruined kingdom. Attending his foretold demise are his doctor (William Sadler), guard (Brian Hutchison), and servant (Andrea Martin), plus his hopeful new queen (Lauren Ambrose)—and the cynical old one (Susan Sarandon), who is rushing him into the afterlife.
Plays of this sort are always a matter of taste, but Rush’s embrace of the foolish, preening king, a crazily physical performance, is irresistible. Not far behind is Ambrose, who has become a top stage performer, and of course Martin, hilarious as always in a part that she might have played on SCTV. There’s not a weak link in the chain, even Sarandon, who has come under critical fire in her first Broadway show since 1972. Gorgeous in Dale Ferguson’s Alice in Wonderland-like clothes, she is at her most regal and forbidding toward the end. Her voice, spookily amplified for a kind of echo chamber effect by sound designer Russell Goldsmith, insistently leads her husband to his fate.
Ferguson’s set suggests a Cirque show in foreclosure, with most of the performers sent packing, the male leads gone to seed in their harlequin makeup, and just a few remnants of the big top still left. Damien Cooper’s lighting continues its threadbare ambiance, as the king, wound up when we first meet him, begins to wind down. Exit the King runs through June 14.
Irena’s Vow, at the Walter Kerr, casts Tovah Feldshuh in the true story of a Polish Catholic maid, employed by a Nazi commandant, who hid 12 Jews in a secret room in his house, at high personal cost. A hit Off Broadway earlier this season, it has graduated with its virtues intact, and is a stirring story, told simply by playwright Dan Gordon and director Michael Parva. Maybe a little too simply: Some of the staging is clumsy (having Feldshuh play other minor characters when the plot demands is distracting) but the story of a “female Schindler,” who buried her wartime experiences for decades until she was asked her opinion on Holocaust denial, is suspenseful and moving. Irena Gut Opdyke’s daughter is answering questions after some performances; be sure to ask her about the fate of the commandant, who obliged Irena to become his mistress. There may be a second play in there.
A story like Irena’s doesn’t require much adornment, and the show is stripped to its essentials. Kevin Judge’s set is a no-exit household environment of its time and place, overhung by scaffolds; the lighting of David Castaneda, costumes of Astrid Brucker, and sound design of Quentin Chiappetta are expectedly muted. The skeletal environment is given some flesh by Alex Koch’s projections, which are of the informative, slide-show variety. Some show the real Irena, who was all of 19 when overtaken by events and looks nothing like Feldshuh—but the actress is so vivid she captures the emotional if not the physical resemblance.
Seen Off Broadway: The Holocaust casts its shadow over Arthur Miller’s 1964 play Incident at Vichy, which the Actors Company Theatre/TACT has revived at Theatre Row’s Beckett Theatre. This is the play’s first New York production since 1981, and under the sure direction of Scott Alan Evans its makes a strong case for more frequent productions. The show takes place outside a detention room in Nazi-occupied France, and centers on the ten men (one of them a 14-year-old boy) who have been brought in for questioning. As their number dwindles, and rumors of death camps swirl, the remaining men plot to move against their persecutors, with unexpected results.
Free of the clutter that marred All My Sons on Broadway earlier this season, the show, tightly acted by a fine ensemble, is starkly designed, by set designer Scott Bradley, costume designer David Toser, and LD Mary Louise Geiger. Outside of silhouettes we never see inside the detention room, but we hear the unnerving laughter of the soldiers within, which the sound design of Jill BC Du Boff brings to the fore. Miller done right, Incident at Vichy plays through April 11.
God of Carnage
Scenery: Miraculous Engineering
Floor: Hudson Scenic Studios, Inc.
Audio: Sound Associates
Exit the King
Scenic Elements: Showman Fabricators and Scenic Arts Studios
Lighting Equipment: Hudson Sound & Light
Audio Equipment: PRG Audio
Set Construction: Global Scenic Services
Lighting Equipment: PRG Lighting
Audio and Projection Equipment: Sound Associates