God of Carnage: A Strong Debut in Easthampton

Thomas Piccin, Maggie McCally, Matt O'Reilly and Gilana Chemlimsky in God of Carnage.
Thomas Piccin, Maggie McCally, Matt O’Reilly and Gilana Chelimsky in God of Carnage.

At CitySpace Blue Room, the New Easthampton Theater Company Performs their First Show

Easthampton’s new theater troupe is officially off and running, and their debut God of Carnage brought out the best in all four actors with a strong script that was both topical and truly good theater.  That’s because, in this play, the characters go to war with each other in every which way, providing a fast-moving sequence that kept the laughs and the barbs coming.

The cast of four immediately began dividing as soon as we heard the four occupations, Alan Raleigh, (Thomas Piccin) is a blustery, suit-wearing lawyer. Michael Novak (Matt O’Reilly) is a less-affluent dealer in pots, pans, and toilet parts. Veronica Novak (Gilana Chelimsky) is a human rights advocate who wrote a book about the atrocities of Darfur. Annette immediately made us dislike her when she announced her occupation: wealth management.  Oh boy.

The couple has been brought together by an unfortunate playground incident, in which Benjamin Raleigh struck Henry Novak with a stick and knocked out two teeth. Clearly, there is a problem in Cobble Hill Park. But what is the best solution?

You can look at this dilemma in many different ways, and therein lies the meat of this well-crafted story. The age-old question of what to do about our children’s problems veers off in so many directions. You have Alan, who in between annoying cellphone calls, declares that his 11-year-old Benjamin, is out of control, and impossible to correct.

To some the simple answer is the law of the jungle, let them fight it out and resolve it themselves.  Since the assault was preceded by name-calling, there is another aspect of revenge and keeping face. As Alan says, ‘I believe in the God of Carnage, it’s the law of the jungle.’

Thomas Piccin on the annoying phone with Matt O'Reilly.
Thomas Piccin is on the annoying phone with Matt O’Reilly.

The victim’s mother Veronica feels deeply wronged by Benjamin’s knocking out Henry’s teeth and intends to push the couple into bringing the boy over for a sit-down. It’s not clear who Veronica thinks this will appease, but Annette is on board with the peace process, as Alan takes yet another phone call annoying everyone around him.

Veronica is convinced that she can shame the couple into feeling bad about the incident and that they are simply bad parents.

Each character was both believable and sympathetic.  Thomas Piccin as Alan channeled a sort of Carl Ikahn businessman lawyer persona with his matter-of-fact delivery of the legal case he was negotiating that all seemed very real. The way he spoke on the phone was spot on, capturing the essence of the cold-hearted lawyer.

The character of Michael played by Matt O’Reilly was the most complicated one, the actor managed to summon a tiny bit of crazy to go along with his aggrieved parent act.

Veronica (Gilana Chelimsky) deserves kudos for also creating a shrill and predictably gullible liberal New Yorker who at the end blows up at what she sees her husband become in this context.

Maggie McCally’s icy, rich-mans-wife persona was believable and made her the perfect foil for both Alan and Veronica. We hear Alan call her his pet name for her ‘Wuff Wuff,’ a hilarious contrast to her stuffy demeanor that over the course of the play shifts.

A fact is revealed about her husband Michael that he killed the family’s pet hamster because it creeped him out is the beginning of this character’s unraveling.  He begins to make unhinged comments attacking everything from parenthood to his wife’s passion project. Everyone piles on and it’s clear that the damage from this incident will last way beyond this evening.

The play was originally written in 2008 by Yasmina Reza in French, but the translation provides the same punch, with characters screaming the F word and teeing off on each other, almost forgetting about the original reason for this tense meeting…there were just too many other annoying things that the rum brought out, and again, the phone buzzes and Alan is litigating a case for his big pharma client.  We can all rejoice with the actors when the annoying phone is finally silenced later in the play.

The play has only four listed actors, but “Murray” and the other people on the other end of Alan’s incessant phone calls, as well as Michael’s ill mother in Florida on the other end of the phone, also are principals in the mix.

The script offers an interesting twist as we listen in on Alan’s legal advice.  The frantic back and forth with his client is hardly in a whisper, it’s more like in-your-face legal instruction about a drug that has had deaths reported, and clearly, damage control is needed.

Alan and Annette repeatedly get up and put on their coats, only to be dragged back down by the heated arguments, or the rum, or Ronni’s clafoutis (with apple and pear!)  One thing that happened in this production was a first, I have never seen as part of the script. I’ll leave it at that, it was quite a surprise that added to the chaotic scene that got hotter as the night wore on.

The play was presented in the CityStage Blue Room, a small black box with about 80 seats. It was hard for us to see all of the action on stage since there is no slope or raised stage. Upstairs, as fundraising and building continue, the larger new theater will have much better sight lines.

God of Carnage, Easthampton Theater Company, CitySpace Blue Room, 43 Main Street Easthampton, May 11-14, 2o23. Directed by Michael O. Budnick. By Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton. Tickets