A Nice Family Christmas – Carpenter Square Theatre
Ryan Echols Published: December 1st, 2016
The holiday season brings about a feeling of love and unity; a time to bring together relatives in joyful merriment and for the purpose of cheerful exchange – for some. “A Nice Family Christmas,” open now at Carpenter Square Theatre, is a look inside one Minneapolis family whose Christmas takes on a much more dysfunctional atmosphere. Written by Phil Olson and Directed by Sheryl Martin, this production comically exemplifies everything no one wants at a holiday gathering. One dreadful confession after another leads the family into a great muddle of trouble. From an unloving cantankerous grandmother to the nearly unemployed youngest son, each seeming tragedy outplays the last and hits the family even harder (with all of the necessary complaining and witty rebuttals included). Balancing drama and farce, this production manfully tries to tick all the necessary boxes of a side splitting comedy.
Lana Henson carries the show as the widowed grandmother. Always cranky, sometimes lucid, and delightfully inappropriate, the character is a hoot and Henson fits it well. Her solid comedic delivery and good work on the elusive Northern accent makes her a definite focus. Glen Hallstrom plays the dopey and drunk Uncle Bob. Hallstrom provides a nice contrast to the rest of the cast giving an appreciated change of pace during his relatively limited time on stage. Always the loving mother, Frieda Penn (Helen) exudes warmth, love, and really embodies the Christmas spirit. Her cheer permeates the entire production, even in the not so cheery parts, and it certainly feels like home. Mark Fairchild plays the whiney and often pessimistic journalist Carl. Fairchild works hard to make his often very expository character more genuine. Kyle Shifflett (Michael) and Jessica Bisel (Jill) were a fine match for each other as the show’s struggling couple; she was clueless, and he was immature. Their back and forth helped establish some tension through the piece and push the story along. Ginger Wilkes (Stacy) was pleasantly reserved. She never came across too strong and is often seen as the only sane family member.
It must be said that the show did run long. While the roughly two hour production is not a heavy investment for an evening, there are certainly moments where a little more speed would have complimented Olson’s snappy writing. It should also be noted that the cast did genuinely look related – it’s a small difference, but it was well received.
For a funny spin on the idea of a classic Christmas, be sure to catch “A Nice Family Christmas” at Carpenter Square Theatre. Shows are running from now until December 17th with Friday and Saturday performances at 8pm, a Sunday matinee on the 11th at 2pm, and Thursday performances at 7:30pm on the 8th and 15th. For more information and ticket availability visit carpentersquare.com or call the box office at: (405) 232-6500.