Dylan Baker, Lucy Liu, Janet McTeer, and Jeff Daniels
in God of Carnage
(© Joan Marcus)
Dylan Baker, Lucy Liu, Janet McTeer, and Jeff Daniels
in God of Carnage
(© Joan Marcus)
The producers of Yasmina Reza's Tony Award-winning play God of Carnage, now in its second year at Broadway's Bernard Jacobs Theatre, are doing a nice job of keeping the laugh-filled dark comedy fresh and the box office hopping by periodically overhauling the cast. Fortunately, the latest quartet -- Dylan Baker, Jeff Daniels, Lucy Liu, and Janet McTeer -- proves to be another doozy.

In this hilarious look at two marriages that come apart over a tiff that the two couples' grade-school sons have had, it initially seems as if Liu as the somewhat mousy Annette might be a weak link. But by the end of the slow and amusing disintegration of civility, Liu has triumphant moments with a pesky cell phone and the two bowls of white tulips sitting placidly at opposite ends of Mark Thompson's shocking-red set.

Daniels, who was in the first Manhattan foursome as Annette's lawyer husband Alan, has returned to the company in the role of down-to-earth Michael, who sells appliances at his store and only the night before the play is set has abandoned his daughter's hamster Nibbles on a nearby street corner. As slick and polished as Daniels was playing Alan, that's how volcanic he is as Michael. When he loses control, he becomes a red-faced rampaging bull.

The lean, lanky Baker has a slightly different take on Alan, and his frequent preoccupation with the calls he has to take about a pharmaceutical client in a bit of a public relations pickle, than both Daniels and his other predecessors in the role (Ralph Fiennes in London and Jimmy Smits in New York). While all three of those actors played the man as deeply suave before breaking down into utter silence, Baker sees Alan as more of a legal-eagle cipher and gives him a slightly grating voice into the bargain. It works.

McTeer played the high-strung, art-loving Veronica in the original West End production, but has adjusted her performance for this run. Whereas the tall, imposing actress employed an English accent over there, she uses an American one here -- and has incorporated a nervous laugh as the proudly refined Veronica becomes so undone she's eventually swigging rum from a bottle like a sailor on 24-hour leave.

The change in casting doesn't mask the fact that Reza's play remains far from perfect in its determination to demonstrate that civil behavior is a gossamer-thin veneer. Where the play is headed is apparent in the first minutes, and the fact that Alan and Annette stick around after the first 15 or 20 minutes tests credulity. Still, it remains incontestable that Reza writes parts that ravenous actors can sink their teeth into.