By Kate Benson; Directed by Lee Sunday Evans
Produced by New Georges
Off Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 5.31.14
Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street
by Shawna Cormier on 5.25.14
Mia Katigbak, Evan Thompson, Brooke Ishibashi, Nina Hellman, Heather Alicia Simms, Christian Felix, and Jessica Almasy in A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes. Photo by Jessica Osber.
BOTTOM LINE: The story of the preparation of a large family meal has never been so amusingly competitive or fearlessly told in this way before.
We all have family and we’ve experienced -- for better or worse -- family gatherings. Whether it is Thanksgiving, Passover, or the Solstice, there are times relations converge causing stress, meltdowns, and maybe a dash of happiness. Taking this dynamic, playwright Kate Benson (2014 Clubbed Thumb Biennial Commission winner) cleverly creates a sort-of impressionistic domestic comedy with a charged sports atmosphere, where the stakes are high and the consequences crushing.
The utterly unique A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes starts with two invested, yet distant, sportscasters: # in charge of the action (Dennis A. Allen II) and @ color commentary (Mike Iveson). They take their places above the stage, giving an entertaining play-by-play of the action below: Three sisters, a sublimely neurotic Cheesecake (Brooke Ishibashi), a get-it-done-or-go-home Cherry Pie (Heather Alicia Simms), and a sweet, yet sharp Trifle (Nina Hellman) are gathered to prepare for a huge family gathering at Cheesecake’s house. A lot of people are expected, including “the herd of uncountable great grandbabies.” There are no props used; yet we all know what everyone is holding or doing. We’ve been here before and we substitute our own dishes, tablecloths, dining tables, and even family members, bringing the play to life.
The stage -- or should I say, court -- is marked like a coach’s playbook (fantastic set-design by Sara C. Walsh). Director Lee Sunday Evans intricately orchestrates stage movements, playfully telling a dramatic tale of sibling rivalry, parental pressure, and deep anxiety, all seen during the heated preparation of dinner. The characters take everything so seriously; all you can do is laugh. There is vigorous propulsion of action, never dwelling or stopping to have “precious” moments. These people do not have time for that. Dinner must be served.
The ensemble cast is courageous and impressive: each character is wacky and fascinating to watch. (Jessica Almasy and Christian Felix tackle several roles beautifully.) Certain characters can’t see, can’t smell, can’t hear, and can’t chop, but with their forces combined, nothing will stop them achieving the goal at hand. After many ups and downs -- many caused by Cherry Pie's hapless daughter Gumbo (Kristine Haruna Lee) -- dinner is set upon the table and all is consumed. Just when you think all will end as neat and tidy as Cheesecake’s kitchen floor, something bizarre occurs as all are envisioning pie. The play takes a dark and surprising turn.
The dinner is well played by all, but it changes quicker than gravy getting lumpy. This is just one of the many elements that make Great Lakes as tasty and satisfying as turkey and mashed potatoes. This time it is prepared in a way you’ve never had before. Yet, it’s still so good.(A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes plays at Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, through May 31, 2014. Remaining performances are Wednesday, May 28th at 8:30PM; Thursday, May 29th at 8:30PM; Friday May 30th at 9PM; and Saturday May 31st at 8PM. Tickets are $20 and are available at brownpapertickets.com. For more info, visit newgeorges.org.)