Slapstick Art?

This is my review of Le Dieu Du Carnage by Yasmina Reza.

Young Bruno Houillié has come off worse in a scrap with 11-year old Ferdinand Reille. Somewhat on the defensive, Bruno's parents Annette and Alain are invited to the Houilles' residence, where the pedantic and overprotective Véronique soon gets their backs up. The continual distraction of Alain's mobile, on which he feels bound to deal with some urgent legal matter involving a possibly harmful medical drug being taken coincidentally by Michel Houille's mother, aggravates the situation.

In this comedy of middle class manners, the veneer of politeness soon breaks down as, fuelled by alcohol, the characters sink to insults and acts of petty violence of the type you might associate more with the dysfunctional and underprivileged, or even primitive people living in a lawless African state of the type Véronique likes to write academic texts about. As the cynic Alain says, "…je crois au dieu du carnage. C'est le seul qui gouverne." – "I believe in the god of carnage. He's the only one in charge!"

The original purpose of the meeting is continually disrupted by digressions, with characters going off at Pinterish tangents, highlighting the absence of effective communication.

The play follows the classical theatre's advocacy of the three unities: of time, place and action i.e. it is simply a single prolonged, acrimonious meeting. What might otherwise be a scene change are marked by the word "flottement".

I look forward to Roman Polanski's forthcoming film version of this play, with Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet and John C Reilly (also Christof Waltz) and plan to read Christopher Hampton's translation to check my understanding of some of the more obscure comments.

However, although I think the basic idea for this play is interesting, it left me cold, unlike the author's "Art", which I found witty and amusing. In this case, the funny points, such as Alain's incessant phone calls and the rising irritation of the others, become tedious through repetition. Apart from the wrangling over the two sons, which I found entertaining and realistic, other topics are often introduced in a clunky way and pursued in a dialogue that seems unnatural. One character's reduction to vomiting seems a bit too slapstick. Having made its point fairly early on, the play does not seem to progress much and there in no striking climax.

In short, I was somewhat disappointed.

n.b. This edition by Magnard in the "Classiques et Contemporains" Series has useful explanatory notes on the script, and interesting further information and discussion topics at the end.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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