They could have called it “Making the Audience Laugh”. Because this production presented by Amil Tellers of Dramatics, did exactly that. But the plays title is “Making God Laugh”. Based on a witticism by Woody Allen, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”, this comedy, penned by Sean Grennan appeared to be just what this audience needed.
The story involves a couple and their three children who, over a thirty year period, continually make plans which make God laugh. The mother, Ruthie (Aimee Bucher), is an energetic, somewhat jittery, devout Catholic housewife who has big plans for her children. The children have other ideas. Except for her favorite, Thomas (Christopher Butturff) who, to his mother’s absolute delight is studying for the priesthood. Her fawning and bragging about “Father Tom” are a huge source of annoyance and resentment from her other two offspring. Ruthie is the conflict for this show, and Bucher does a very nice job as the overbearing, passionate mother, and, eventually near-comatose wretch.
Dan Hirn, as Richard should win some kind of award, if only for his hair pieces. The audience gasped and laughed each time he appeared. This son is held in general low esteem, as evidenced by his family’s failure to remember that he now goes by Rick and not Ricky. Poor Rick has a very bad habit of picking losers. He encourages his siblings to invest in companies such as Yugo, and Enron. He first buys a Pacer, then a Pinto, touting it as the wave of the future. Again, at each mention of these obvious, and historic disasters, the audience, most old enough to remember these losers, roared. By the end, they were on the edge of their seats, waiting for the next pronouncement. Hirn was so convincing, I wanted to rush out and “get me some of that.” The assembled viewers adored Rick and appreciated the playwright’s surprise at the end. “Loser” becomes “hero”. Hirn was every bit of each.
Chris Butturff plays Father Tom, a man with the laudable goal of helping others and saving souls. He is a steadying influence in the beginning, a go-between for his siblings and mother. This is a fun role for Butturff who can command meatier parts. This is a low-key guy, and Butturff plays him so honestly, we feel for Tom, when God laughs at his plans, too. But maybe not in a bad way. Butturff never “acts”. He “lives”.
The third sib is Maddie. She is an “actress” much the same as Penny, frustrated thespian is an “actress” in “The Big Bang Theory”. Maddie must take part time work to supplement her income, while she struggles to make her career work. Ruthie guesses that her problem with acting and with men, has to do with the fact that she is a bit overweight. Maddie has tried to lose weight, but has decided to be herself. And she has already solved her romance problem. Theatre veteran, Amber Evans, is Maddie, in every way. She has the body type, she can bring to Maddie the frustration, resentment, and eventual anger toward her overbearing mother. She has been many characters on stage; she has made them all sparkle. But this one is slightly different, and Evans nails it.
Ever present in this household is the man, Bill, the patriarch, who tries, mostly in vain to keep his family together. At each meeting, he takes a family picture, each one, for reasons laid out in the scene, is a snapshot of happiness, surprise, angst, and other vivid emotion. The author gives us this unusual theatric present to end the scene. By the end, we can’t wait to see the last picture. Bill, portrayed by a meek Jonathon Hodges, has accepted that his wife is over the top, and he has acquiesced so often that he now has no power, except as peacemaker. But this mail clerk, finally “goes postal”, at last, taking control when Ruthie begins to slip. Hodges accomplishes this reversal perfectly, bringing Bill around to the control the family needs. His aging, during the show was a tribute to whoever did his makeup, and Hodges himself, who has an intimate knowledge of how to play any character, even one that changes subtly during a story such as this.
Director Jeff Kerr is an accomplished musician, actor, singer, technician. He also knows how to put together a terrific cast, put them in the right places, and use the sound lights and set to create a very believable picture. I heard nothing but good comments about the show itself, and its cast. I was impressed with the script, the staging, the fantastic pace variances, the tight, ensemble acting, and how well these wonderful actors became this family. It was a very enjoyable evening.
Two small items should be mentioned. When you come to see this, you will notice the scene changes that go on forever. The settings must change over each ten-year period, and the actors must not only change costumes, but they must be aged as well. This is an inherent flaw in Grennan’s script, but a necessary one, if we are to accept the passage of time. Instead of grinding my teeth over the delay, I concentrated on the details the stage crew had to make happen. I half-expected the audience to give them an ovation when they completed their last change. Then I wondered if director Kerr would bring them on for a curtain call, but keeping to tradition, he had the cast signal their gratitude during their bows. I do think the audience appreciated the efforts of the crew. The second item I need to bring up is the air conditioner. As an actor, I want that thing to run all through the show. But as an audience member, I was dismayed when the air, still running in scene 1, nearly drowned out actors whom I know to have powerful voices. A minor complaint, but one that can be solved by cutting the air as the show is about to begin. Sorry, cast! The noise also overpowered the pre-show recorded announcement. Maybe the volume for that can be increased.
The items I mentioned did not alter, in the end, our enjoyment and entertainment. We got to laugh. We got to think, cry, and guess about what was coming next. A very pleasant evening, thanks to the many and varied talents possessed by cast and crew. They deserved, and got, a significant ovation at the final curtain, thanking them for their great work. Of course I know the truth; this isn’t really “work” for any of them. This is “fun”. It’s fun, or they wouldn’t be doing it. But I’m not cluing the audience in on that revelation.
I recommend you hotfoot it to Encore Theatre to see this super show. You will not be disappointed. There are still two performances to come, this weekend, and three more next weekend, May 20,21 & 22, 2016. You can get tickets by calling the box office at 223-8866. The friendly folks will be delighted to find you a great seat. Enjoy!