Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: DECEMBER 19, 2008
Okay, had about enough of the treacly sweet stuff this holiday season — in stores, in songs and on local stages? How about a nice dysfunctional family that’ll make yours seem positively normal?
Meet Joel, whose divorce a year ago set him reeling, and sent him to hole up with his grandpa, a recluse still grieving for his wife of 62 years. They give new meaning to ‘messy bachelor pad.’ In “Off the Ground,” the old Pennsylvania house has more discards and detritus than a landfill. Grandpa stays in his tattered PJs , glued to the TV; Joel, a sometime writer, is equally inert and unmotivated. Neither really seems to care much about the pigsty they’re wallowing in –until the family decides to descend for the holidays, a reunion that hasn’t taken place in over a year, with good reason. Joel lamely tries to pick up, decorate, prepare in some way. Grandpa, ever the pragmatist, doesn’t see the point. Why should he have to clean up and dress up for his own family? And then, before you can say ‘Bah! Humbug !, the onslaught begins.
Enter high-powered, unhappy, infertile sister Susan and her sarcastic, once-again out-of-work husband. And Joel and Susan’s ever-meddling mom and hen-pecked, bottom-line-oriented Dad. And oh yes, Mom has ever-so-helpfully brought along a young single woman for Joel, who’s in no shape for small-talk and is made more miserable by the fact that he can’t even see his own little daughter for Christmas. Well, so far so bad. There are also two Christmas trees, forgotten ornaments, behind -the-scenes relationship problems in every possible direction. Act I winds up in a scream-fest the likes of which I haven’t seen since my family last got together. But everyone winds up eating pie and singing Christmas carols at the end. And we’re left with the hope that maybe some plan, or someone, somehow, will get off the ground.
Last year, New Village Arts presented the premiere of this new holiday show, written by local actor Tom Zohar and designer Amy Chini . They’ve tweaked the piece for its second production, and helpfully clarified some of the plot-lines, and it’s far more satisfying. Much of the original cast is back, and director Joshua Everett Johnson, who focused on character last year, has turned his attention to the humor this time. So the play is funnier, and everyone seems to be having a wonderful time, on and off the stage.
The cast is great, with the most amusing performances coming from Charlie Riendeau as the crusty grandpa and Jack Missett as the clueless dad. The set seems even busier and more cluttered this year, and the last-scene pajamas are a hoot. So if your holiday spirit has been lagging, get it Off the Ground at New Village Arts .
“Off the Ground” runs through the weekend at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad .
©2008 PAT LAUNER