Tuesday, September 18, 2012

American Heartland "Making God Laugh" review by watchNwrite

Short of Farce, Too Far for Realism 
 Rating: 3

Making God Laugh
American Heartland Theatre

On Thursday, September 13th, a nearly full house sat down at the American Heartland Theatre to find out what "Making God Laugh," by Sean Grennan, had in store. The play's story was to take place over 40 years, telling the somehow-remarkably-cohesive story of a family as they reunited on four different occasions (each separated by about 10 years). The audience is immediately introduced to a very comfortable family room - which is to remain the set for the entire production - and to the sounds of the 70s radiating in darkness over the sound system (the first year presented is to be 1980).

The first two scenes of this production stand merely as one big "Hey, remember when…" joke using cheesy and gimmicky tools that allow the audience to reminisce about popular happenings throughout the 80s and 90s. It was pleasant, fluffy, and slightly-over-the-top acting by most of the cast - which made the production style a couple sound effects short of farce and a few too many bits past realism. However, it became easy to care about the characters because almost everyone can relate to family holiday get-togethers.

Overall the show was technically very strong in many ways. Scenic designer, Alex Perry, and props/set dresser, William J. Christie, work fantastically together to create an impressive sight - one which not only fits the story, but accentuates it (with help from Dolls and Aprons). Shannon Smith as Costume Designer went a little above the mark with the minutely-unreal hair pieces and wigs that furthered the farcical nature of the first two acts, but she handled the outrageous clothing styles of the past decades with grace and a touch of panache. Stage Managers, Christie and William D. Carey, kept the show's pulse healthy by executing Shane Rowse's Lighting Design and other cues efficiently.

If it was the Director's vision to have 2 solid scenes of funny references and 2 solid scenes of realistic acting (minus parts of the Y2K bit), then Paul Hough accomplished his vision. Some blocking is forced and has a "for the sake of moving" feel to it, and not every moment is playable to every audience member due to the placement of certain furniture pieces, but no serious problems are encountered in terms of understanding the action of the play. Every now and again, Hough reminds us of his capacity for cleverness; moments such as the re-entering of Rick and Maddie and the bit about passing around the Fantasia Dip are played and directed to a T and brought out the best in the script. After the first two scenes and an unprovoked and overdramatic monologue from the character Ruthie, a wish was made that the last two scenes would start to play more towards the legitimate development of the family and less towards the pop culture of the time; intermission came and went, and then the wish came true. Even though it was hard to believe that the play would ever reach a "real" place, it definitely did.

The potential for this cast to play real moments very well was always there; it just was not supported by the script for what seemed like a very long time. Don Richard as Jimmy is pleasant and charming - a lovely addition to this cast. The more present Richard got in the conversations, the more satisfactory and touching the production became. Jessalyn Kincaid as Maddie joins Richard as one of the more believable and gem-like additions to the cast; the popular adage that -- when you see something heart-stopping, everything else in the room disappears -- comes to mind to describe Kincaid's Shakespeare monologue moment. It was just pleasant to watch her work. Kathleen Warfel approaches her "Pleasant Dementia" with integrity - having it based very much on the character she plays before her downfall. Having said that, though, the character she creates in the beginning is a little hammy for the senses, but the turn-around is heartwarming and pleasantly depressing. Warfel and Kincaid share some truly awesome moments in the last scene that take the breath out of the theatre. Brian Patrick Miller (Richard) and William Grey Warren (Thomas) were sufficient in the progression of the plot and had some very enjoyable moments.

Although this play is only really dramatically valuable in the second half, it becomes worthwhile enough to feel happy you came to see it. Check it out, if nothing else, for the second half.

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