I Believe in the “God of Carnage” from Creative License
Creative License’s God of Carnage at Cohoes Music Hall is an eight-hander. This season closer is the definition of great ensemble work. The one act play by Yazmina Resa flies by and simply leaves you wanting more. In short – this production, directed by Phil Rice, hit all of the right notes… of which there are many.
God of Carnage in the English translation was a considerable success during its 2009 run in Manhattan, where it won Best Play and all four actors enjoyed nominations for Best Actor and Actress at the Tony Awards. This production shows how successfully the writing can be delivered. It simmers and simmers to high points, almost bubbling over – but you still are surprised when it spills over the brim. Of course, I’m not even referring to Annette’s retching, but the final confrontation between the four parents. A powerful lighting choice shows all four collectively coming to terms with a question that Annette poses at the top of the play – “…how many parents standing up for their children become infantile themselves?”
Two upper middle class couples – Michael and Veronica Novak (Aaron Holbritter and Brigitta Giulianelli respectively) and Annette and Alan Raleigh (Casey Polomaine and Ian LaChance) meet for dinner to ideally, civilly [“we appreciate you trying to calm the situation down rather than exacerbate it”] – discuss a recent confrontation between their two sons. The Raleigh’s son Benjamin whacked the Novak’s son Henry in the face with a stick, knocking out two of his incisors [pointy teeth, for those playing along at home]. Naturally, this is an uncomfortable topic. Violence is right up there with religion and politics within our society – but each character’s idea of a proper resolution drives the rest of the action towards an explosively immature climax.
Holbritter’s Michael and Giulianelli’s Veronica presented a wonderful contrast to Polomaine’s Annette and LaChance’s Alan. The couples’ respective philosophies and postures were conveyed through their physicality, particularly in costume. Despite being presented as couples, this writer could tell that each character was very singular – individually motivated with a different goal and perspective through which the altercation was viewed. This was especially true for Holbritter’s Michael, who tried to play both sides of the table until his devolution, including a very funny bit about pretending to be “a liberal.” His unraveling was so significant that I was thrilled when his wife jumped on his back like a child throwing a tantrum. Holbritter is an everyman in this show, but wow – what a voice. It really added to the character – but it wasn’t a character choice. Aaron Holbritter’s natural voice was actually perfect for the role. I loved every second.
A lot of what the audience hears from LaChance’s Alan is his calls from big-pharma PR work on his personal cell phone. It doesn’t seem to matter at what point the conversation stands between the parents, if he gets a call – he takes it. He caps a number of the simmering moments referenced in the first graph by breaking the tension with a telephone call – of course, this takes a commendable amount of focus and energy to be the one driving the energy this way – and drive Mr. LaChance does. The vitriol of Alan is enough to physically turn his face red at some junctures. He simply does not see what his son did wrong – Alan believes in the God of Carnage, and this writer believes that LaChance does as well. I haven’t hated a character in such a long time. Very well done by LaChance in an action-heavy character who would much rather remain laissez-faire.
Brigitta Giulianelli’s shining Veronica attempts quite severely to be the voice of reason, but a voice of reason not withstanding from passion. Sometimes this makes Veronica the most heated of the four parents – which is something that adds juice to the role as I didn’t expect this when she first was interacting with Annette and Alan. Giulianelli’s take sizzles with intensity, wouldn’t any mother go to bat for her son in this way? This writer would say that her character harbors the most hope for a solution, even though everyone around her does not seem to have that at the top of their priority list – only fueling her fire tenfold. Giulianelli closes the show, and I am very glad she does – it is almost as though she accidentally wins by getting to bring everyone back down from the dizzying height they just arrived at – with a one sided telephone call that provides a wonderful perspective for the close of the action.
Last, but certainly not least Casey Polomaine is grand as Annette. She arrives at her breaking point with the slowest burn of the four, but she really pops when the moments call for her to do exactly that. I found myself watching her the most out of the four when the focus was not necessarily on her at the precise moment. She allowed actions and words to affect her as though hearing things for the first time. I could feel her appreciation for the kindness that Michael periodically showed her throughout the course of the action. I related to her musings on men’s attachment to their “gadgets.” Life, as Polomaine’s Annette notes, does not happen in a vacuum – neither does her character’s experience in this production. Her steadfast presence gives Giulianelli, Holbritter, and LaChance a great partner to play off of throughout.
“God of Carnage” in some ways is exactly what you’re signing up for. A dark comedy of manners where there is no certain ending… but the devil is in the details here. Come for a laugh, stay for four stellar performances that you’ll most likely think about for days to come. My only wish for this show was more time in my schedule so that I might see it again.
God of Carnage runs through May 15 at Cohoes Music Hall. Tickets can be purchased here.