Thursday, December 15, 2011

Trying Again to Escalate the Television Mentality

About two years ago I wrote a post entitled “Yasmina Reza’s Guilty Pleasure?,” basically as a way to blow off some personal steam over the news that Reza’s play God of Carnage was the hottest ticket on Broadway.  I wrote as one who had seen Art and came away feeling as if I had been conned.  I was more explicit in my post:

Leaving the theater, I took a look at my watch and realized that I had just sat through the duration of three Seinfeld episodes; and that seemed to capture the experience in a nutshell: a lot of rapid (but not necessarily quick-witted) banter around a situation that had gotten a bit too long in the tooth to count for an authentic situation any more.

In other words, while Reza may be the French child of an Iranian father and a Hungarian mother (both Jewish), I suggested that her “guilty pleasure” was an addiction to American situation comedy television.  I then considered God of Carnage, also packaged as three half-hour episodes, and concluded that the only way in which Reza had advanced was in replacing Seinfeld with Curb Your Enthusiasm, which has been deliberately calculated to induce far more discomfort among its viewers.

This time, however, the play has become a film, directed by Roman Polanski, one of the great masters of discomfort.  A. O. Scott’s review of the film is now available on the Web site for The New York Times.  Without going into what he says about Polanski, I would observe that Scott managed to catch my own point in some rather nice language:

This may seem like nitpicking, but “Carnage” is partly about the narcissism of small differences — the nuances of rank, taste and behavior that take on disproportionate importance in close quarters — and fudged or sloppy details expose a larger weakness of design. Like Ms. Reza’s “Art” this play consists of a superficially provocative idea slapped onto an almost-probable situation and whipped into a froth of hyper-articulate nonsense.

I do not think that this is nitpicking.  Whatever accolades she may have received, Reza shows signs of being little more than a naked emperor;  and Scott is now the small boy making this point to the international forum of New York Times readers.  God bless him for that!

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