"Sopranos" star Gandolfini a hit on Broadway

James Gandolfini attends the 2008 Primetime Creative Arts Awards in Los Angeles September 13, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

NEW YORK (Reuters) - “Sopranos” star James Gandolfini won rave reviews on Monday in “God of Carnage,” a Broadway play about two couples whose attempt to deal amicably with their sons’ playground fight descends into mayhem.

The play by French writer Yasmina Reza also stars Marcia Gay Harden as Gandolfini’s wife, as well as Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis, in what Elysa Gardner of USA Today called “a showcase for first-rate ensemble acting.”

“It’s been a while since Broadway’s seen such gleefully nasty fun,” New York Post critic Elisabeth Vincentelli wrote.

New York Times critic Ben Brantley said the play “delivers the cathartic release of watching other people’s marriages go boom.”

“A study in the tension between civilized surface and savage instinct, this play ... is itself a satisfyingly primitive entertainment with an intellectual veneer,” Brantley wrote.

It was Gandolfini’s first time on Broadway since he won worldwide fame as crime boss Tony Soprano in the hit TV series “The Sopranos.” He was last on Broadway in 1995’s “On The Waterfront.”

Gandolfini played Soprano for six seasons over 8-1/2 years. The award-winning HBO series which ended in 2007 broke new ground for television by portraying a conflicted man who tries to balance family life with his Mafia career.

“Gandolfini overcomes his ‘Sopranos’ baggage and more than holds his own as the earthy Michael,” Vincentelli wrote.

Reporting by Claudia Parsons; editing by Michelle Nichols and Bill Trott