Last evening I saw the film Carnage on DVD. The film is based on the play God Of Carnage by French playwright Yasmina Reza so it is relevant to theater. The play has only four characters. In the film each character was played by a great actor; Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz, and Kate Winslet. I especially like the sardonic performance of Christoph Waltz.
As a playwright, I watched this film with an eye towards what makes it effective as an example of successful dramatic writing. The drama could be compared to Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolf as it featured married couples engaged in a battle of wits. As you watch the film, you keep wondering why the other couple doesn’t leave as things get heated. While watching the play or film version of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolf you keep wondering why Martha doesn’t leave George. Maybe they stick around because they are actually enjoying themselves! Although it seems like a bitter fight, every participant is being given the opportunity to display his or her vicious wit. No doubt the audience enjoys this wit more than the argument and I imagine the characters also enjoy their interaction. Some people actually enjoy fighting with other people because it is the only form of social interaction available to them.
Both these plays God Of Carnage and Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolf feature characters who can hold their own in an argument. All the characters could be considered fine wits and manage to land some real zingers. Nobody retreats into silence or fails to recover from a wounding remark. In this sense, the drama is not realistic but it keeps the play from getting too heavy. None of the characters is a defenseless victim. Every character gets a chance to make vicious remarks and is allowed to be vicious. This is probably important to prevent the audience from being too appalled by what is being said. You might not get away with a play in which a group of vicious characters beats a quiet character into abject submission and defeat. That might be too awful to endure. But it is still important to note that these plays feature a great deal of emotional abuse being inflicted. These plays make a spectacle of emotional abuse. The characters are making a spectacle of themselves. Some critics might argue that such plays are a celebration of emotional abuse.
Penelope, played by Jodie Foster, is a politically correct writer who is devoted to social causes like documenting the suffering in Africa. The other characters make fun of her ideals and question her motives. They object to her moral lecturing and her smug sense of moral superiority. This is something I imagine will rub theater makers the wrong way as they become ever more political. In other words, the social justice warriors should hate this play because they will see how it applies to their annoying behavior. As the theater becomes more sanctimoniously serious and insufferable, viciously witty plays like God Of Carnage will be forbidden.