Dad is a hippie, Mom is a cougar, and their son has migraines and panic attacks. But daughter Bree is the sane one in the family, the super-responsible center of gravity.
Wait. Does the synopsis for the new comedy “A Night With the Family” sound a little like Kaufman and Hart's 1936 classic “You Can't Take It With You”? A normal daughter surrounded by zanies ...
“I would say the play is a love letter to Kaufman and Hart,” said playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett, who is coming to the Omaha Community Playhouse this weekend for the world premiere of “A Night With the Family.”
Bennett said he's seen “You Can't Take It With You” more than any other stage comedy, but he didn't necessarily have it in mind when he sat down to write.
“I got harassed by my parents over the holidays about when are you gonna have kids,” Bennett said by phone from his hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah. “I couldn't sleep. So I pulled my notebook out.”
Bennett started writing “A Night With the Family,” set on Christmas Eve, as a break from the socio-political dramas he writes for Plan B Theatre Company in Salt Lake City. It's his first full-length comedy.
Slowly but surely, he said, bits of semi-autobiography dribbled into the play, like that new-agey dad, his packrat tendencies and a cast-iron anvil.
“Comedy takes far more rewriting,” Bennett said. “That's what was tricky about it.”
He said it took a dozen drafts of the play, most of them major rewrites, to get to what Playhouse patrons will see onstage.
Dramaturge Heather Helinsky of Philadelphia guided Bennett through the rewrite process. Helinsky, who came to the Great Plains Theatre Conference to work with its chosen playwrights, crossed paths with Playhouse staffer Amy Lane at rehearsals. That's how Bennett's play came to the Playhouse play-reading committee's attention.
Bennett said he's always had an affinity for characters who live outside the norm.
“When I was 11 or 12, I remember my mom saying I was just a nonconformist. I looked it up in the dictionary and thought, 'Yeah, that's exactly what I am.' My true character had been revealed to me.”
Bennett said this is a family-affirming show, one in which he hopes others recognize their own familial craziness.
“It's all about seeing people as people, not personalities,” he said.
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