note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
And they’re off! Two broadcast announcers in a simulated broadcast booth above Apollinaire Theatre Company’s multi-door and window stage deliver an athletic, multi-sport, play-by-play account of the four-generation Wembly family’s Thanksgiving preparations and meal, in Kate Benson’s 2015 Obie Award-winning dark comedy, “A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes”.
Benson,actor-playwright living in Brooklyn, NY, churns a typical family Thanksgiving preparation and meal into a competitive race of sorts, starting with a horse or foot race, football, baseball, golf, tai chi, and other sporting events, as the family comes together to prepare and share the traditional, annual feast that’s anything but traditional,or celebratory.
Nathan Lee’s handsome set is devoid of props or furniture. Instead, the actors, under the deft direction of Apollinaire Artistic Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques, repair and set the large dinner table, spread the tablecloth, greet each other, prepare the dinner, etc. through acrobatic and interpretive movement (kudos, movement choreographer Danielle Rosvally) .
The only words spoken throughout this perilous mealtime ordeal are play-by-play announcer (Jeff Marcus) and color commentator (Jade Guerra).
Family members have strange names, too, not necessarily reflective of their character. Older sister Cheesecake (Mariela Lopez-Ponce) is hosting the celebration, while younger sisters Cherry Pie (Liz Adams) and Trifle (Dana Block) cooperatively help with preparations. Will they require another table? Do they insert a table leaf, which must be constructed almost immediately? How about spreading the tablecloth together? And what about Cherry Pie’s daughter, Gumbo? Will she show up and upset the balance at the table?
Although their interpretive movements are entertaining, after a while, the show lags.
Guests arrive. Duo Sylvia Sword and Michael Kelly don’t change costumes but make fast switches, portraying several other characters-family husbands, sons, wives and daughters. The two are especially fun to watch in their portrayal as twins, moving, talking, acting and reacting with precision.
Steve Auger struts his theatrical stuff, too, changing roles as Cheesecake’s husband, and other family members - Ned, Ed and Fred. One of the play’s high points is when Cheesecake enlists Ned’s help to turn the 26-lb. turkey (Kelly) in the oven. Auger and Kelly’s interpretive movement and interaction are fantastic.
However, the play’s structure doesn’t provide insight into the characters’ persona. We learn Gumbo, (Emily Edstrom) is a screw-up, a “butter fingers,” who can’t seem to do anything right. She even arrives late at the family fete. When asked to help with a simple task this year, Gumbo manages to flub it up again.
The eldest generation is no bargain, either. Grandmother-mother SnapDragon (Ann Carpenter) is no kindly rose or lily. She’s blind, but knows her family can’t do anything as well as she, including Cheesecake’s stirring the gravy. SnapDragon needn’t watch her daughter. She knows she’s whisking improperly, and voices her displeasure.
GranDada (Floyd Richardson), who doesn’t hear well, is more benevolent. At one point, wanders off to view the lake, falls, and requires attention.
The great-grandbabies are all situated in the family guest room. We’re told they’re crying at times, and their parents or Gumbo dutifully attend to them, as needed.
When the family’s seated around the table, the great-grandbabies suddenly break out of their room, in a single-line phalanx, and assume attack mode, under the table, turning the festivity into a blood sport. We think.
The story’s obscure, the characters, cloudy. Instead of the traditional, feel-good (or bad) family story of coming together during the holidays, Benson’s one-act tale makes strange sport in lieu of treasured memories.
BOX INFO: One-act, 75-minute quirky farce, by Kate Benson, presented by Apollinaire Theatre Company through Jan. 16, 2016, at Chelsea Theatre Works, 189 Winnisimmet St., Chelsea. Post-show reception in the gallery. Showtimes: Friday, Saturday, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Jan. 3 and 10, at 3 p.m. Advance tickets $20; at the door, $25; students, $15. Visit www.apollinairetheater.com or call 617-887-2336.