Broadway Features and Reviews
Yasmina Reza's Broadway Road To Carnage
By Daniel Luzer, Broadway Magazine
What if you tried a creative profession and failed at it? What if you were in your twenties then and had two children? Is it then time for law school? Not for Yasmina Reza, the French woman who, after an unsuccessful stint as an actor, decided to remake herself as a playwright.
Reza's latest play, The God of Carnage, about two polite married couples descending into fighting when they attempt to resolve a domestic dispute, was performed in Zürich in 2007 as Le Dieu du Carnage. Carnage is now playing on Broadway at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre. The play stars James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Marcia Gay Harden, and Hope Davis. The dramatic piece won Best Play at the 2009 Tony Awards.
The play's success represents a considerable turnaround in the career of Reza. The eldest in a family of girls born to Hungarian-Persian Jewish couple who settled in Paris, Reza began her career as an actress. She had small parts in plays by Molière and Pierre de Marivaux and also starred in a few new plays. But she did not find acting intellectually challenging and her acting career was not as successful as she had hoped. She turned to writing. In 1987 she wrote Conversations after a Burial, a bitingly humorous play about a funeral. Conversations won the Molière Award, roughly the French equivalent of a Tony. In 1988 Reza rewrote Franz Kafka's classic The Metamorphosis for Roman Polanski. This work was nominated for another Molière Award, for Best Translation.
Reza wrote several commercially and critically successful plays but the playwright was not internationally known until her 90-minute satire, Art, opened in Paris in 1994. Art, a play about three men fighting over all-white painting, brought Reza worldwide recognition.
Unlike most playwrights, who write for the audience, Reza learned the theatre from being an actor. That may account for a large part of her success; actors enjoy performing in her plays.
But Reza is a controversial figure in part because her cutting sense of humor is often hard for audiences to grasp. French critics say her wit is Anglo-Saxon. Reza thinks her humor is quintessentially Jewish. To American audiences her sense of humor seems French. In 2007, for instance, Reza followed Nicolas Sarkozy for a year as he ran for president. The resulting book, L'Aube le Soir ou la Nuit (Dawn, Evening or Night) triggered a frenzy in the media, in which Le Nouvel Observateur magazine said that the book is full of dialogue "of which the theater could be jealous." The book focused not on policy or even the election, but what Reza saw as Sarkozy's childish lust for power and recognition.
Asked in an interview if the famously randy Sarkozy tried to seduce her on the campaign trail, Reza responded that he was too busy trying to win over France. She added that it "is almost insulting to spend an entire year with a man without him trying to seduce you." But then, it looks like with her latest play, Reza's managed to seduce a greater population than the French republic.
Yasmina Reza's hit play God of Carnage on Broadway currently stars Jimmy Smits, Annie Potts, Ken Stott and Christine Lahti and is playing at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre.
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