I once met a man who just kept saying the word "wackadoo." This thought popped into my mind as I was watching Kate Benson's colorful, kooky, and truly wackadoo play A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes. Staged as sports commentators calling a Thanksgiving dinner like it was a sporting event this is an absurdist and inventive approach to the traditional family squabbles. Considering most Americans probably have a room full of relatives watching sports during any major holiday it's an apropos hybrid. Often funny and very creative, it was an unusual gambit that ran out of steam for me before the play took an additional bizarro turn.
This production directed by Lee Sunday Evans has moved from a successful run at Dixon Place downtown, to the Women's Project uptown.
Cheesecake (Brooke Ishibashi) is hosting four generations of the family for dinner. She and her sisters Cherry Pie (Heather Alicia Simms) and Trifle (Nina Hellman) go about setting up the temperamental family table. Once their adult children and spouses start arriving named things like The Twins, Republican's Wife, and Smilesinger (all played with specificity by Jessica Almasy and Christian Felix) with the family elders GrandDada (Gerry Bamman) and SnapDragon (Mia Katigbak) and all the grand babies in tow, things start to reach full pandemonium. An unexpected extra family member, Gumbo (Kristine Haruna Lee), shows up and throws off all the best laid plans. Everything Gumbo touches turns to disaster. The sports commentary meanwhile is full of mixed sports metaphors and
criss-crossed references to golf, baseball, and football. They turn family lore into sports lore ("The year of the fumble."). The set looks
like a junior high gymnasium and the actors move in almost basketball
like gestures, pivoting and positioning as their activities are
described by the sportscasters (Ben Williams, Hubert Point-DuJour) in a booth above the action.
Behind shiny, happy plastic smiles, colorful costumes, and high energy direction, there is a lot of sniping and stabbing between family members. As things start to get more out of control so do the jabs. Then not unlike another downtown play full of surrealism, family, and something a little strange, The Debate Society's Blood Play, ABDINOTBOTGOTGL takes a dark turn.
But well before we got to that point, I found myself enjoying the droll wit and excellent comic delivery of the sportscasters over anything else. There is tension between the commentators and they are not immune to what they are reporting on. The rest of the cast does an excellent job with their plastic-people routine (which starts to crack as disasters start to mount) but I never quite warmed to the style over substance absurdism.
Even if done well as it was here, I tend to lose interest in surrealism because it never feels like I have much to engage with. This genre's never been my bag. I left this play (as well as Blood Play to be honest) just a little too baffled and wondering what the point was.
I received a complimentary ticket to attend.