How I Learned to Stop Hating the French and (Kind of) Tolerate One French Play

Friends? Photo by Jordan Kubat

This review (what there is of it) is filled with venom and rancor. For it is a review of a play written by a French person. And the French are awful. The French are awful because earlier this year, France announced the non-permanent sports it wanted the International Olympic Committee to include as part of the 2024 Paris Olympics. Surfing, skateboarding and climbing were on the list. Baseball/softball were not. But breakdancing was.

Yes, breakdancing—which certainly trends hipper, more urban and ethnically diverse—is in the 2024 Olympics, but North America’s most beloved sport (sorry, fútbol fans, but the Dominican Republic and Cuba are also in North America, so suck it) is not.

Whether this is payback for Freedom Fries or France collectively waking from its national nightmare and realizing Jerry Lewis isn’t all that, it is an outrage, and France should be fucked in every fucking hole that France can be fucked in.

Which brings up Yasmina Reza, the playwright of Carnage. No, Reza doesn’t merit a metaphorical bukkake, and these fingertips should be ashamed for even typing that, but it’s easy to wish some kind of misfortune on her. First off, she’s French. Second, she is probably the most successful playwright of the 21st century. Nothing wrong with that; some poor schlub has to hold the title. But that’s merited on TWO plays. The first was Art, the theatrical equivalent of a Hostess cupcake—satisfying and tasty at first, but empty calories and shallow upon further inspection. It was the closest thing to a successful military invasion the French have waged since at least before the War of the Spanish Succession. Since its 1998 Broadway opening, it has been translated into 30 languages, and for two years in the early 2000s, it was produced some 45 times by American professional theaters and Buddha knows by how many non-professional companies. That number may not seem very high, but discounting musicals, few plays this century have even come close.

How come I don’t get to be in the happy photo? Photo by Jordan Kubat

But 12 years later, Reza’s next play, God of Carnage, was an even bigger hit. It took home a bunch of the major Tony awards in 2009, then got turned into a major motion picture, Carnage, in 2011—though it was directed by Roman Polanski, which torpedoed any chance of it meriting any Academy Award consideration. (Polanski won an award for adapted screenplay in Italy, but let’s face it, no one cares about that.)

And while Art and God of Carnage are similar in cast size and feature bougie characters talking about bougie things, the latter is better in that it’s more of a satire in which the apparently tamed characters are revealed to be as savage, petty and childish as the two adolescent boys whose encounter has sparked their meeting.

And based on this Wayward Artist production, it’s also a far funnier play. Aimee Guichard, Keith Bush, Shayanne Ortiz and Garret Replogle all discover surprising laughs in their interpretations of the dialogue, which could easily sound as stilted and phony as the hypocrites at their characters’ core. All but Bush’s Michael, the apparently most-stable-but-watch-out character, still seemed to be easing into the fluid group dynamic that is so essential in a play like this. But it was also opening night, and there is nothing in their portrayal to suggest they won’t hit that fluid critical mass.

Kudos to director Sarah Ripper and scenic designer Daniel Espinoza, who make this production look and feel big enough in the very intimate setting. That’s crucial in a show such as this because the audience needs to feel as if it’s watching a trainwreck—but also needs to feel as if it’s onboard. And by the play’s end, when psyches are laid bare and a Brooklyn flat ravaged, it really does seem as if you’ve just spent an hour and a half at a small cocktail party, sitting in the corner, sipping on your gin and juice, and wishing there were popcorn as you watch all the civilities and niceties and bullshit of Western culture spiral into the drain and into the fetid gutter where all those things that make life truly worth living—for those of us honest enough to admit it—incubate: selfishness, cruelty, superiority. Fortunately, we can all leave the theater, take a psychic shower and, if possessed of enough self-awareness, ponder if that’s the route we really want to take on our path to destruction. One can only wonder what the poor, sad fuckers at the end of God of Carnage will do.

Thus marks the finale of the Wayward Artist’s second season. In those two years, it’s proven to be the county’s most intimate literate house, staging powerful and compelling plays that always leave you with something to think about. Even if they’re French.

God of Carnage at Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (657) 205-6723; Thurs.-Fri., Nov. 14-15, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. $15-$25. 

2 Replies to “How I Learned to Stop Hating the French and (Kind of) Tolerate One French Play”

  1. Writing like a raging foul-mouth can be funny – or not.

    I can’t think of a lousier thing to do to baseball than to put it in the Olympics, which would result in either:
    1) A tournament of the half-dozen countries that actually play baseball, or
    2) Dozens of teams assembled on the fly of players without the basic skills and managers who neither know how to assemble a good team nor the strategy and tactics of winning a game.

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