Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: The Painfully Awkward Family

All families are weird and dysfunctional. They all have those weird idiosyncrasies. But the Kelly family takes the cake for weird and awkward. A mom with an unhealthy obsession with filling her happy room with Disney memorabilia and the ashes of her dead pets, a 16 year daughter who will do anything for men, a father who lacks a backbone, and a daughter who boycotts said weird family by only speaking in Beatles lyrics. That's the family at the center of Vicki Vodrey's Hard Day's Night. The odd comedy begins with a series of exposition-filled direct addresses by resident sane daughter Kelly. We learn about her family’s obsessions including the family naming process. If you’ve done your math you will now know our narrator is deemed Kelly Kelly. She gets the raw end of the deal by also having a middle initial of K. And Vodrey isn’t shy about placing some awkward jokes about the succession of Kelly’s initials. But once the monologues and flashbacks are finished, we move into a strange night for the family where mom and dad, Ken and Kate, are about to celebrate their wedding anniversary with old pal Jenn and her cradle robbing younger husband Jason. The night leads to some incredibly awkward moments including the sex-crazed and rambunctious Jenn flirting with Ken who wears a coat in August due to his super small Mickey t-shirt anniversary present from his wife. Absurdity aside, Vodrey’s script is quite polarizing. For those nostalgia lovers, Vodrey littered the script with Beatles references. They garnered laughs but Vodrey relied heavily on the references, using them as a crutch and not to truly further the plot. The other jarring moment in the play was the later plot development of Jason and Kelly. Through bonding over the Beatles and a few sips of bubbly, Jason and Kelly engage in something many would consider taboo. Kelly is supposed to be 17 and Jason at 30. Regardless of the rules of age of consent, the prospect just simply felt unsavory. Love knows no age but regardless, an adult and a high school student is a very tough topic, even for this play.
In this style of comedy, it’s hard to shine bright as the straight man surrounded by a cast of whacky people. Unfortunately Lizzie Stewart did not have much opportunity to showcase her acting as she was stuck reciting Beatles lyrics without offering much of any subtext. Kelly picked certain lines for certain responses. The struggle with being forced to sing them allowed the audience to laugh and Stewart becoming stuck. As quirky momma Kate, Erin Amanda Anderson thrived in the odd world. She was colorful and never bashful. Or any of the other Seven Dwarfs for that matter. Jessica Ryan gave over-the-top a whole new meaning. Ryan was brazen and lacked any chemistry with onstage husband Jeff Ronan. Ronan, like Stewart, was the normal one in the situation. But you have to question the validity of Jason’s reasoning for being with Jenn for as long as he has. Melissa Diane Martin as Kirby played up the sex-crazed daughter well. By simply walking on stage with her deadpan persona and a baby outfit for one of her older suitors, Martin brought the house down.
Director Samantha Tella had a crazy concept to work with. Tella relied heavily on the cheap laughs, rarely seeking honesty. With the stage beleaguered with Disney accouterments, it appeared as if costume and prop designer Emily Abma raided the Disney Store on a super sale. It fit the world of the play and allowed those Disney fans to recognize items that we may have ourselves. To add flavor to the flashback sequences, Tella employed lights and sound to flash us forward and back. She tried to time a “woosh” with a light shift to help show the time hop but it was never really in sync. And it was partially due to Lizzie Stewart. Rather than using the shift to bring her forward and back, she let is work around her and it looked incredibly odd. If there is a distinct sharp sound, Tella and Stewart needed to use it and her physicality needed to match.
Every family is quirky and weird. And we love them for it. Hard Day’s Night is that show that people will enjoy for the references but if you dissect it, there are problems at hand.