Theatre Mirror Reviews-"A Nice Family Gathering"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2012 by Tony Annicone

"A Nice Family Gathering"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The New England Repertory current show at MMAS is "A Nice Family Gathering". It's Thanksgiving Day and the first family gathering since Dad passed away. At the gathering, Dad comes back as ghost with a mission: to tell his wife of 35 years that he loved her, something he neglected to tell her while he was alive. The problem is she can not see or hear him. Dad returns to Earth to ask his son Carl to deliver that message for him. While Carl sees his father clearly, none of the other characters can. The Lundeen family gathers together: Carl, his older brother Michael, a doctor, his wife, Jill and their sister Stacy have come to spend the holiday with their mother. The trouble starts when Mom invites a date for dinner. Dad is infuriated and gets Carl to question Jerry's intentions. Meanwhile Jill who is on fertility drugs, bursts into tears incessantly, while Stacy announces she is pregnant. Director Mike Kiernan casts the show wonderfully, mixing the comic and poignant moments together beautifully, too. A thunderous standing ovation is their reward for a job very well done.

The magnificent set is by Ted Talanian with scenic painting by Glenn Fournier who painted hard wood floors, fleur-de-lis walls and columns for the house with costumes by Mary Jane McCool. Alice Springer wins the audience over with her portrayal of this seemingly absent minded woman. She is wonderful in this role as the scatter-brained and bubbly mother. A running gag is that she can never remember her daughter's name and she mixes up the holiday they are celebrating. Some of her funniest lines include: I like jumbo shrimp, Spam makes me laugh and I'm as hungry as a wood tick. Alice gives her the comic and poignant depth needed. Bruce Church plays her deceased husband in the show. Why did he return to earth? Will he make a difference in the lives of his family members? Bruce delivers the goods whether he is insulting his son, Carl, passing out when he gets bored with the conversation and hurling insults at his golfing partner, Jerry. Bruce has some of the funniest lines in this show and his fainting at Stacy's revelation is hilarious. It is the tearful resolution at the close of the show that brings tears to the audience's eyes. David Anderson plays Carl who is the only person to see Dad. Their exchanges are hilarious and gives the show a "Blithe Spirit" or "Bewitched" type feel to it. He is fabulous in this role. David's very funny in the role but it is the tear jerking realization scene that will tug at your heartstrings that is his best moment in the show. The tears flow from him in this emotion packed scene and there wasn't a dry eye in the whole audience, too. The important message is to be sure to tell your family that you care about them while you still can.

The other cast members do wonderful work, too. Fred Armstrong plays Jerry who is an uncomfortable guest at the festivities. He has several wisecracks to try to smooth things out. One of his comic moments comes when he gets embarrassed by the family's problems and runs out to buy cheese whiz. Rich Stiles plays Michael, the doctor who has a secret that he hides from the family. His funniest line is if I get sent to prison I hope I don't become anyone's bitch while his funniest scene is when he and his wife run out of the bedroom after doing it during Thanksgiving festivities. Rachel Morandi is his wife, Jill and is very funny as the constantly crying wife. She has a comic drunk scene in the show that had the audience in gales of laughter. Maggie Nichols is a hoot as Stacy, their sister who wants to be noticed and appreciated by her family.She reveals she is pregnant and has a secret bombshell that the audience finds out about during the show. So for a heart warming comedy, be sure to catch "A Nice Family Gathering". The show contains much laughter but teaches a valuable lesson about the true love of a family. It is a truly must see show of the autumn season.

"A Nice Family Gathering" (19 October - 4 November)
NEW ENGLAND REPERTORY COMPANY
@ MMAS Black Box Theater, 377 North Main Street, MANSFIELD MA
1(508)339-2822

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