Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Family Beef"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Kay Bourne



Some years back, a popular TV commercial featured a diminutive, exceedingly distraught, but feisty older woman with a big foghorn of a voice. She angrily gestured at a fast food hamburger, so small in size, that the bun completely hid the meat patty. "Where's the beef?" was her beef. "Where?s the beef?"

The "beef" returned this summer with an entertaining night of theater, "The Family Beef Feast Fest", directed by Norton and IRNE Best Actor Award winner, Vincent Ernest Siders and presented by his TYG Productions at the Boston Playwrights Theater. The festival has concluded but Siders' promise to return with more plays next summer. Good times at a family barbeque can go up in flames over matters as small as who gets the one remaining hamburger. That's the metaphor to keep in mind.

Family discord was dished up through the four plays and two indie films, all but one by local writers and filmmakers. Siders in the guise of an Island chef, Grand Pummy (short for Pumpkinhead) introduced the production and came on stage several times along the way to see how we were digesting the menu. As the strong applause indicated, it went down very well!

Frank Shefton's clever "The Place We Met" set the tone. A story of how a 20-year marriage breaks up (as the fire engine sirens wail off stage) is very funny for the audience, if not for the couple arguing at the little bar where they first met. Siders was perfect as the philandering hubby too late with his apologies, while Pamela Lambert's sinned-against wife who, yes, does go a mite far in her indignation, was done with the exactly right measure of outrage and hurt. What fun to watch two excellent actors duke it out.

Witnessing the flare up of husband and wife is a waitress, wonderfully played by the rubber-faced Kaili Turner, who has her own tale of domestic woe to relate. She's pregnant by her sister's boyfriend. If that's not an Uh-oh! --- What is?

This intense dramatic monologue by Daniel John, a Canadian transplant to the Boston area, was then outdone in the category of outrageous domestic behavior by the playwright himself who also had "I'm Still His Mother" on the menu. This piece was brilliantly executed by Pamela Lambert as Mom, a more than willing partner in an incestuous relationship with her 21 year old son. (Daniel John, by the way, teaches "intuitive gardening" for Brookline Adult Education).

These dramatic portraits could have had the audience morosely wanting to stick themselves with a barbeque spit but for the fact they are so humorously written and wittily performed (without losing their bite). Congratulations to director Siders who obviously advised the actors well on balancing edginess with humor.

The plays concluded with a howl of a one-act, "The Man Who Could Not Stop Crying," by Murray Shisgal (screenplay for "Tootsie"). A very successful businessman now in his early 60?s has a bad case of PMS or something like that, which sets him to crying at the least little thing. Anything and everything initiates torrents of tears from stories in the newspaper to classical music on the radio. The louder the overly sensitive Italian American sobs and the harder he tries to hold back the floodgates, the funnier the situation becomes for the audience. Stephanie Gallagher is fine as the wife who loves her husband deeply but has had it up to here with his crying jags. But the show is really Jeff Gill's who plays the weeping executive with gusto. A regular with Akiba Abaka's Up You Mighty Race Theater Company and Jacqui Parker's Our Place Theater, Gill here gets a chance to move on from the hateful Caucasian roles he so often plays, to show an enormous gift for comedic acting.

One of the films was another monologue (performed by Amanda Good Hennessey) from Daniel John, this time portraying the angst of a "poor little rich girl" made to feel totally incompetent by her Dad. The other film brought the program to a conclusion with its opening scenes from John Adekoje's "Street Soldiers" about Cape Verdean American street kids in Dorchester looking for a better way to live than drugs and violence.

(By Kay Bourne)

"Family Beef" (3 - 13 August)
@ Boston Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON MA
1 (617)???-????

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