Conflict has long been the soul of drama, but contemporary playwrights such as Tracy Letts and Neil LaBute (following in the footsteps of Edward Albee and David Mamet) have taken this one step further — they've made hostility the brains and guts of their operation.
Add French playwright Yasmina Reza to this combative list. “God of Carnage,” her Tony-winning battle royal, which opened Wednesday at the Ahmanson Theatre with its original Broadway dream cast, starts off all civilized and urbane. But it quickly descends into the most raucous display of primitive aggression you're likely to see among characters who undoubtedly pay full price for their clothes at Barneys and spend something in the vicinity of a fireman's yearly salary on private-school tuition.
This second encounter with the play hasn't done much to improve my initial estimation of it as essentially a one-joke comedy about the Neanderthal lurking within today's proudly progressive city-dweller. But any stage work that can bring out the bestial best in James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis is all right with me, even if it must be said that Matthew Warchus' concentrated production would have been more at home in a less cavernous environment than the Ahmanson.