Reviewed by Karla Froelich
Fenton Village Players opened their second show of the season with Phil Olsen’s A Nice Family Gathering. The clue in the title indicates that this may not be such a nice gathering. It’s Thanksgiving, and when we first meet the members of this family, they appear “nice” and then are revealed to be flawed human beings.
The set is an adorable and well-used space. It is the living and dining area in the family home of Mom, played delicately by Jan Cable, and Dad, handled with dexterity by Geno Essenmacher. Action also includes the front stoop and the garden archway that indicates the driveway. A forced perspective hallway greets us upstage center. It gives the small space a depth I haven’t seen before. That’s nice.
The set decorations were that of an upper-middle class family with a cozy fireplace and Dad’s putter leaning against it, ready for play. We’re sort of set for dinner, but that’s a clue that something is not quite right. There’s an offstage kitchen, and while the door swings regularly, there isn’t much food being delivered to the table.
Our protagonist is middle child, Carl, played with just the right blend of confidence and anguish by Tim Maggard. Carl has a good case of “why me?” through most of the play. He has a journey that will give him answers and justifications. We happily see that he turns it into “why NOT me?” for a plethora of reasons.
We also meet “perfect child number one”, Michael and his perfect wife, Jill who have taken on the family business of being a doctor and his country-clubbing wife. They have surpassed the wealth and stature of the parents, but at what cost? Michael is played with haughty grandeur by William Paul Jones, and Jill is brought to us on a tilting platter by Laura Ann Strong.
Completing this little family is Stacy, the often forgotten, younger sister. She is portrayed with proper angst and understated presence by Kaitlyn Renae Morris. Stacy is the baby, but is anything but typically spoiled.
No story is complete without “the other person” love triangle. We have Jerry here, presented with the demeanor befitting a jackal by Mike Dietz. We know he’s probably up to something, we just don’t know what.
I hope I’ve thrown enough lines into the water to attract more viewers to this slice of life. I don’t want to give too much away, but you’ll laugh, cry, and groan in recognition. It is family, after all, and we are all part of one…or two.
A Nice Family Gathering continues at FVP through April 14. For tickets and more information contact the box office at 810-750-7700 or online at fentontheatre.org