You've seen plays about dysfunctional families filled with eccentrics, and about families driving each other nuts at Christmas. Cross the two and you get “A Night With the Family.”
The new comedy by Matthew Ivan Bennett opened Friday at the Omaha Community Playhouse, with generally positive but mixed results.
Bennett excels at writing funny, flawed characters who spout hilarious dialogue. A cast gifted at the timing and delivery of those plentiful zingers made a Thursday preview audience laugh loud and often.
But this family is first cousins of the Bickersons, and two hours is a long time to watch them chew on each other, frequently at fever pitch. Bennett's play could use a few more moments in which we see quiet human connection that affirms the love these characters have for each other.
There were also times when actors talking over each other or pausing felt like dropped cues or line fluffs — not unusual for a dress rehearsal.
Still, there's no denying the entertainment value of “Family,” in which 30-something son Donny (Nick Zadina) arrives on the doorstep of his divorced dad in Salt Lake City. Donny, a wired hypochondriac, is in the midst of a marital crisis on Christmas Eve.
But then everybody in the family has issues. The number of freak flags flying high and proud around here is truly over the top.
Dad (Dennis Collins), slow to answer the door because he was in his sweat lodge, appears in a woman's robe, boxer shorts, bigfoot slippers and purple socks, only to announce that his own latest marriage is over. His version of supporting Donny is to spout psychobabble about being a warrior (complete with antique sword) and serve up pharmaceutically enhanced smoothies.
Big sis Bree (Suzanne Withem) fusses at the cluttered chaos Dad's house has descended into, alternately barking at her Mormon husband and four kids for playing the television too loud (they're heard but not seen) and picking on her brother. Bree has relationship problems, too.
Self-involved Mom (Kim Jubenville) soon drops by with her much younger boyfriend, Antoine (Matthew Pyle), a Canadian choreographer with a thick French accent who is much too easy a target for anybody to resist. She and Dad sling old mud at each other while demonstrating how the kids learned to pick at each other. Antoine fails miserably at playing neutral amid the crossfire.
The first act peaks when Donny's parents treat his cough and panic attack with conflicting remedies that leave him unable to feel his face. Act 2 builds to a showdown between Dad and Antoine involving a cake, a squirt gun, barbecue skewers and a hidden, more lethal weapon. Each act also unveils family secrets that crank up the craziness.
Director Carl Beck fully utilizes a strong cast's comedic gifts, from Jubenville's peppered persistence to Pyle's fraying patience. Collins and Zadina reaffirm their talent for both physical and verbal comedy, while Withem's comparative normalcy offers a grounding counterpoint.
While the emotional resonance of the story could use beefing up and the fevered pitch of these epic clashes could use a bit more variation, there's no denying that “A Night With the Family” delivers laughs with its inspired insanity.
Bonus: However crazy your own family might be, this one is likely to inspire gratitude for what you've got.
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