TR Robertson .. If the holiday season is beginning to stress you out and if you are in need of some laughs to get you through the mayhem that can be the upcoming season, you have got to see the latest play Randall Hickman and Douglas Davis are offering at Broadway Vista, Phil Olson’s “A Nice Family Christmas”. Under the direction of Randall Hickman with sets designed by Doug Davis, the actors and actresses take you through what, for many families, are a typical, dysfunctional gathering of families during the Christmas season. You would like to think that Christmas is a time of love, forgiveness, happiness and the glowing spirit of the holiday season. But, when people get together, especially families, anything can and will happen.
Phil Olson is an American playwright who has published 15 plays. Seven of these plays are set in a small Minnesota town, including “A Nice Family Christmas” Olson grew up in Edina, Minnesota. Many of his plays have unusual titles. There is the “Don’t Hug Me” series – “Don’t Hug Me We’re Married”, Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol” “Don’t Hug Me I’m Pregnant”, “Don’t Hug Me County Fair”. Broadway Vista produced another of Olson’s plays, “A Nice Family Gathering”, featuring the same family going through “issues”. This play won and was a finalist for 12 awards in the theatre world. “A Nice Family Christmas”, playing for the first time on stage at Broadway Vista, will certainly garner a number of awards as well. It is a hilarious play, poignant and shows the different dynamics families can have.
Photos provided by Broadway Vista
Playing the conflicted Carl was Broadway Vista veteran Tim Benson. Carl can’t decide if he is in love or not, does he want to get married or not, does he want to still be a journalist or not. As Carl’s emotions about his girlfriend and his mother run amuck he is forced to finally make decisions he has been putting off. Playing brother, Michael, was regional actor Torre Younghans. Michael is separated from wife Jill as they both can’t figure out why they can’t have children or even if they want to have children. Michael tries to play the role of the successful member of the family, but he has many secrets he is hiding from them. He also has several OCD’s, one of which has been purchasing over $10,000 in commemorative plates. Younghans has great facial expressions that are perfectly timed round all that is going on in the house and with different family members he seems to be in conflict with. Kylie Harper plays sister, Stacy, who has a child, is not married and is also harboring a number of secrets from certain family members, most significantly the fact she is gay and wants to marry her girlfriend, who is a black, Catholic girl. Playing their mom, Helen, is Deborah Wenck, a 30 year veteran of local theatre productions. Of course, Helen has secrets from her family, one of which is to make a special announcement and give a prize to the family member that does something nice for someone while the family is together. She also has an even bigger secret she is keeping from her family. As the family struggles with all sorts of issues Helen wonders, “Isn’t Christmas like a test? Have you been a good little boy?” Helen’s husband passed away a few years ago and this leads to another family member for the play, Uncle Bob, her husband’s brother. Uncle Bob is played by another Broadway Vista veteran, Kenneth Gary. Uncle Bob is a reformed alcoholic who has backslid and stays continually drunk during the play. Kenneth, as Uncle Bob, is funny, inappropriate, sad, in love (he thinks) with Helen and a lost soul. A wonderful characterization by Kenneth. Also returning to Broadway Vista is Rennetta Lloyd as Jill, Michael’s wife. She is emotional and cries at the drop of anything that resembles love, marriage, babies – hint here is that hormones may be in play? Lloyd is a convincing as the emotional vulnerable Jill. The audience favorite and hit of the play is Grandma, played by veteran actress Judith Carlstrom who is returning to the stage after a length absence. Grandma is the unstable glue holding this family together, along with mom Helen. Grandma is stuck in her old ways on many issues, like gay marriage, babies out of wedlock, crying or getting too emotional over anything. What make her the audience favorite is grandma’s side comments, saying what she has on her mind at any time whether it is appropriate or not and these comments are hilarious. The audience was constantly in stiches when she spoke. As many an older person will do, when hearing about many of the family issues she would begin her comments with “when I was young….”. Judith exhibited great timing and was the perfect cantankerous “old lady”. She is both the grandmother that is everyone’s nightmare and the grandmother everyone wants. One of my favorite comments from Grandma is “Marriage has no guarantees. If you want a guarantee, marry a car battery”.
It should also be mentioned that not only are the plays at Broadway Vista entertaining, but you don’t want to miss the gift raffle drawing at intermission Doug Davis describes as “wonderful, useless crap”. You purchase your raffle tickets at intermission and then the fun begins with chances to win prizes like holiday pot holders, steel drum Christmas music CD’s, Santa hats, that horrible hard Christmas candy, peanut brittle, polyester ties and more. Doug’s “MCing” of the raffle make it all come together.
This is a timely play for this holiday season. It is beautifully acted, funny, a tiny bit emotional and a reminder that if we clearly think about it, all families have issues and sometimes these will appear at the best and worst of times. “A Nice Family Christmas” will run until December 18th. Tickets can be purchased at www.broadwayvista..com or call 760-806-7905. Broadway Vista is located at 340 East Broadway in downtown Historic Vista. Next up for Broadway Vista is “On Golden Pond” beginning February 2nd.