| The American Heartland Theatre located inside Crown Center first production this season is the Kansas City premiere of a delightful new comedy inspired by the Woody Allen joke, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
The play centers on a couple of empty nesters welcoming their three adult children home over various holidays spanning three decades. As the parents and grown children deal with each of their evolving lives, we get a glimpse inside their dreams, unresolved issues, old family traditions and of course, a dubious holiday dip recipe.
Tensions flare up and laughs break out as audiences join the family gatherings during Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve and Easter.
This emotional roller coaster ride with characters that we can all identify with is the brainchild of New York-based playwright Sean Grennan. Grennan, who considers Kansas City his second home, wrote the musicals “Married Alive!” “A Dog’s Life” and “Another Night Before Christmas” and the plays “Beer for Breakfast” and “As Long As We Both Shall Live.”
The play begins in 1980 and continues through the present day. The family consists of mother, Ruthie (Kathleen Warfel), father, Jimmy (Don Richard), daughter, Maddie (AHT favorite Jessalyn Kincaid), son, Thomas (William Grey Warren) and son, Richard (Brian Patrick Miller). The setting is the combination living and dining room. The back-and-forth dialogue is the equivalent of watching a verbal ping pong match.
Ruthie is a straight-laced control freak. She wants everything perfect around the house. She encourages peace and harmony for the family unit. She knows how to pour on the guilt and is most critical of Maddie.
Jimmy is very much in love with Ruthie. He accepts her demeaning remarks. He has accepted rubber-stamping Ruthie’s decisions to get along. He is afraid to create waves and put his foot down.
Thomas is the good son in this Catholic family. He becomes a priest with his own parish.
His siblings refer to him as Mr. Perfect.
Maddie has an alternative lifestyle. She is trying to make it as an actress. She wears skimpy outfits. Ruthie wants her daughter to lose weight, be nice to a man and give her grandchildren.
Richard is the wild card of the family. He refuses to grow up and has a severe case of arrested development. Ruthie finds it permissible for him to sow his wild oats. The double standard is most evident in comparison to her wanting Maddie to settle down. Richard is always coming up with get-rich-quick schemes. Richard tries hard to get attention by doing outrageous things.
All of the characters in this dysfunctional family make startling transformations over the years.
The play is divided into four scenes within two acts. The first scene is laugh-out loud funny with several memorable wisecracks. The second scene takes a dramatic turn as things turn serious with spiteful remarks. The third scene after intermission brings unexpected changes. The final scene brings home the message of the importance of family sticking together through thick and thin. The aging process leads to a sad and bittersweet ending as the children must accept role reversals in regards to their parents.
Warfel is exceptional in this multi-faceted role. She has the subtlety to be both hilarious and heartbreaking. You alternate between loving and hating her while realizing her character’s flaws.
The rest of the cast are outstanding in making their characters real and natural.
Director Paul Hough does another stellar job putting the actor’s through their paces and streamlining this smooth production. Buffalo Deb deserves kudos for the dolls, aprons and eye-catching pot holders that she designed and constructed. .Shannon Smith’s costumes are reflective of the various decades.
This poignant play makes for an entertaining evening or matinee out. It will appeal especially to Baby Boomers, who have experienced so many life cycles encompassing the treasured memories of the past, the realities of the present and the uncertainties of the future. My grade is B+.
Making God Laugh is rated PG-13 for adult themes and mild language. It runs through October 21. You can order tickets by telephone (816-842-9999) or online at ahtkc.com.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"