Apollinaire Delivers Hilarious Look at Holiday Family Dynamics (4 Stars) by Catherine Collins

‘A Beautiful Day in November on The Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes’ – Written by Kate Benson; Directed by Danielle Fauteux Jacques; Movement Choreography by Danielle Rosvally; Set Design by Nathan Lee; Costume Design by Susan Paino; Sound Design by David Reiffel. Presented by Apollinaire Theatre Company at the Chelsea Theatre Works, 189 Winnisimmet St., Chelsea through Jan 16th.

From the moment I was seated at “A Beautiful Day in November on The Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes” – even prior to the start of the show – hilarity ensued.  Characters were being introduced with the obligatory “We Will Rock You” by Queen blasting in the “stadium” (aka theater – aka Wembley family dining room), and it was apparent that we were going to have a front row seat to some comedy, sports analogies, and family craziness.  Kind of like going home for the real holiday meals in the Midwest, New England, or Anytown USA.

The cheeky character names truly match their respective personalities, beginning with Cheesecake – the apron-wearing Mom who is prepping for this holiday meal with her sisters, Cherry Pie and Trifle.  The meal preparation lasted for the full hour and fifteen minutes (with no intermission), was raucous, and at times a feat of deft physical maneuvering by the cast.  That included lots of running in place, squats and sprints on this stage – a testament to the adroitness of the actors – and their comic timing was impeccable as well.

As the holiday prep continued, the family characters were explored more in-depth, including a play-by-play description by the “sportscasters” – who were an amazing side show of their own, a show within the show.  At times I questioned if my sole focus should be on them, or on the play itself.  I settled for a mix of the two.  During the course of the play we get introduced to other multiple characters, each with an individual quirkiness that begs for us to know more about them.  We meet Gumbo – the black sheep – a young woman who’s going through a divorce (and who’s always late for every meal and event). She binds all the characters together like the hearty roux that her blind grandmother and matriarch (the aptly named Snap Dragon) is trying to make for the gravy.

The exploration of Gumbo and all of the family interactions with her was a trigger for the many possible directions in which this show could have gone.  Was she going to continuously stand back, await further family bullying, while madly chopping away at the cubed bread for the stuffing? It was fun to watch the very dark side of Gumbo quietly brewing while Uncle Ned wrestled the turkey, with the many great grandchildren snuggled quietly in the guest room, unaware.

This show, with so many hidden layers and subplots – from past recollections of the “kids table” where the gravy boat went flying, to the disastrous year when the dog ate the turkey – is a real hoot.  It is also the most unpredictable ending to a show that one could imagine.  The playwright, Kate Benson, was in house for this show, and I can only imagine that she sat back and soaked up the love in the sheer joy of laughter that filled the sold-out show throughout.  I would recommend this dark comedy.  It was comedic, thought provoking, full of holiday familiarity, and ended with an unexpected twist. For more info, go to: http://www.apollinairetheatre.com/