by Cynthia Citron
The play is titled “A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes.”
The title alone should give you some clue as to how bad the play is.
A long narrow table stretches across the long narrow stage (or what would be the stage if they had one), facing the audience. Seated at the table are two men named # and @ (Christopher Neiman and Kjai Block) wearing headphones and mics and calling out the action as if they were providing color to a horse race or a football game. They also play a pair of twins after the rest of the family arrives.
There are ten actors playing 19 parts, coming and going as the extended family sets up for Thanksgiving. Setting up involves a long sequence during which two sisters named Trifle and Cherry Pie (DebbieJaffe and Tegan Ashton Cohan) argue over the exact placement of the table boards on the trestles — “It’s not centered”, “Move it a bit left”…
There is a third sister, named Cheesecake (Sarah Lilly), who is the designated hostess of this get-together. She is slightly frazzled, but she manages to keep things running relatively smoothly while everybody bustles around attempting to help.
It should be noted that the table and chairs are the only furnishings on stage. There are no props, and all the frenetic activity is conducted in pantomime.
And then the guests begin to arrive. There are GrandDada and his wife SnapDragon (John MacKane and Judith Ann Levitt), and somebody called Smilesinger and her husband (Rebecca Light and David Bickford). Bickford also plays Ned/Ed/Fred/Runnerman and Republican, while Light plays Republican’s wife/Trainer/Trainer’s partner/and the Wives of the Twins. And everyone has brought their assorted kids, who do not appear, but are all waved off to the guest room for a nap.
The last to arrive is Gumbo, who is Cherry Pie’s adult daughter. Her claim to fame is that she provides accidental disasters to the family’s get-togethers. At this gathering she nearly slices off a finger and bleeds all over everything. (“Don’t bleed on the potatoes!” one of the relatives cries.) Gumbo also spills the meal’s green beverage all over the table, and her mother wipes the mess while crawling backwards on the tabletop.
Meanwhile SnapDragon, the mother of the three sisters, suddenly asserts herself and begins verbally attacking Cheesecake. She criticizes everything Cheesecake does, even things she did in childhood. And even though SnapDragon is blind, she admonishes Cheesecake, who is whisking the ingredients of the giblet gravy. “I can hear you doing it wrong” she says.
Although # and @ continue to narrate the action from time to time, that responsibility becomes Gumbo’s as she reports on the bloody and unnerving activity that ends the play.
Kate Benson, who wrote this play, was awarded an Obie (Off Broadway’s equivalent of the Emmy) for it. Laramie Dennis, who directs it, has collaborated with Benson for more than 20 years. She co-founded the Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab and chaired it for six seasons. The Lab, she says, “has nudged into existence more than 100 strange, wonderful plays.”
“A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes” is most assuredly “strange.” But “wonderful” it isn’t.
Performances will take place Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm through December 10th at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 North Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood. For tickets, call (323) 856-8611 or visit www.theatreofnote.com.