REVIEW: Theatre-on-the-Hill’s God of Carnage

As posted in the TribLocal, the following is my review of Theatre-on-the-Hill‘s production of God of Carnage written by Yasmina Reza.


This past weekend, Bolingbrook’s Theatre-on-the-Hill introduced another amazing comedy to the suburbs, and didn’t disappoint. God of Carnage is an ambitious, hilarious and very difficult story about two affluent couples who come together because their sons got into a fight in school that resulted in one of the boys getting two teeth knocked out. What starts out as a very civil and reasonably open minded meeting unravels into an in-depth look at the human psyche and how these people are nowhere near as civil as they appear to be, finally asking the question: “What do we know, really?”

So what do we know, really? Well, the small and stellar cast is comprised of Theatre-on-the-Hill alums Bill Smith and Erika Enigk Grotto, who play the elitist Raleighs, as well as newcomers Leann Hoffrogge and Zachary Johnson-Dunlop as the more working class Novaks. Each performer brought to life a vibrancy to characters that are not only relatable as individuals, but as the show progresses, create the realization among audience members that a situation like this could very well happen (or already had) in their own lives.

Erika Enigk Grotto (Annette Raleigh) has been seen in Theatre-on-the-Hill’s summer musical productions, most recently as one of the Pick-a-Little ladies in the Music Man. She takes a little of that high-class haughtiness and refines it into Annette, who is clearly stiff, reserved and uncomfortable with this little meeting. Her ethereal aura radiates a quality that is clearly meant for the stage.

Bill Smith (Alan Raleigh) is also a regular at Theatre-on-the-Hill. Bill brings a swagger and smoothness to his character to the point that you don’t always know if he’s talking on his cell phone or to the other characters until after the fact. Watching him go from one conversation to the next seamlessly is almost as entertaining as realizing that one of the main things affecting his marriage is his dependence to his cell phone and the world outside of his immediate family.

TotH newcomer Leann Hoffrogge plays uptight, no-nonsense Veronica Novak, a writer with a strong sense of purpose, who has no qualms about using her moral views to get her point across. Did you ever wonder what would happen if you gave the most uptight person in the room too much to drink? This is your chance to find out, and the results are hilarious.

Zachary Johnson-Dunlop is a newcomer to Theatre-on-the-Hill, but not to the stage. As Michael Novak, he very much plays the foil to every other character in the show, whether he is egging on everyone else into falling off the deep end or pointing out the flaws in everyone (including himself). You can’t help but be drawn to this character and be entertained with his “devil may care” attitude towards the situation as a whole.

What is fascinating about this cast is just how well balanced it is. Whenever someone is speaking, everyone else is filling in the spaces in between and building more story into the background, creating a richer, more colorful world. Seeing this show just once isn’t enough, because there is just so much going on and you’re liable to miss the fun that everyone else is having.

This is the genius of director Craig J. Engel – he seems to make a point of directing his actors to creatively fill the spaces in between, to paint a much more natural and realistic environment. And with a group of actors as accompished as these, the cast took his direction and ran with it. Whether it’s talking about Alan behind his back when he is taking a phone call, how characters react while other are having a tete-a-tete, you can’t help but be drawn into every nuanced moment.

Of course, as with any great stage production, everything that happens on stage can only be done with a strong backstage crew, in this case the one-woman show, by stage manager Whitney Smith. There are so many things that happen onstage that are so outrageous, so out of the blue that they can only be seen to be fully appreciated. The brilliance of Ms. Smith is making it all look so seemless that it is natural.

So if you are free any weekend in April, come on over to Theatre-on-the-Hill to see this gem of a production, and even if you have already seen this show during opening weekend, come and see it again, it will be just as entertaining the second time around as the first. Whether it’s the thick tension between the two couples that you can cut with a knife or watching as each of the characters unravel before your eyes… God of Carnage is a terrific night of theater, and well worth the price of admission.

The show runs through April 29th and starts at:
– 8:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays
– 3:00pm on Sundays
Tickets are:
– $12 for students and seniors
– $15 for adults

Theatre-on-the-Hill is located at The Bolingbrook Performing Arts Center (at Bolingbrook Town Center) 375 West Briarcliff – the stage is behind Bolingbrook’s Police Station

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