by Beti Trauth
The final production of Humboldt State's Theatre, Film and Dance Department's 2011 Season, is a quirky, entertaining black comedy centering around a highly dysfunctional family's prickly coming back together on Christmas Eve: "Some Assembly Required."
Building on the existing, inherent stress of close relative's already-frayed nerves as they try to "pleasantly" deal with each other's most annoying personal traits (and childhood memories) during the holidays, playwright Eugene Strickland wickedly ups both the friction and insanity level with obvious delight.
Directed by Rae Robison, she deftly steers her intrepid cast to reach each of their character's deliberately exaggerated, bad behavior limit. And, somewhere in that nutty-as-a-fruitcake mix, every member of the audience will most likely recognize traces of someone they know.
To begin with, a prodigal son named Walter (nicely played by Kyle Handziak in his acting debut), turns up at his parents' door after a long absence. He has disappointed Dad (a solid, guest-actor portrayal by Evan Needham) by becoming an insurance adjuster instead of "getting into the barbwire business" like his father.
Walter has returned to his original family hearth to escape some marital problems, but manages to get in the middle of a lot more emotional trouble here than he bargained for.
Such as dealing with his younger brother Gordon (played by Shea King), an endearingly inept loser whose wife has just left him. He's beaten Walter home and moved into his parents cluttered basement, hiding there with an old b.b. gun, inventing some gross eggnog -- and, refusing to come upstairs.
Also arriving to seek Christmas Eve sanctuary in her childhood home is his sister, Stacy (well done by first-time actress, Karianne Nelson), a fractured, "free-spirited" young woman who shows up in a hospital gown after having just escaped from an unnamed (mental?) institution.
All of the above prove that they are "apples" who have not fallen too far from the "family tree." After all, their eccentric dad's favorite pastime is the constant playing of old record albums (including those by Top-40 artists, like Dean Martin, or the original Broadway cast of "My Fair Lady"), but always in the same rotation order. Over and over again.
Father apparently only leaves his record player long enough to go upstairs and check on Mother's "vital signs" where she lies upstairs (in her completely darkened bedroom). She "suffers" from a mysterious, unspecified health "condition."
Whatever it is that supposedly ails her, the bottles and bottles of pills she takes are definitely part of the problem. Using her best neurotic approach, Australian exchange student, Romy Clugston, wackily plays this daffy "Mommie" who is far from "Dearest."
My one performance note to the actors would be to remind them that basically near-yelling some of their lines (instead of "projecting" them), not only makes what they're saying hard to understand, but is completely unnecessary. The Gist, where the show is being performed, is too intimate a space for this vocal over-kill. So, pull the volume back accordingly, enunciate, and you'll be just fine.
As far as the tech end of things goes, Jason Mohatt's interesting and effective, multi-level scenic design is excellent in every detail, as is the tricky lighting designed by Telfer Reynolds and important sound design by Ciera DeSouza. The multiple props were well-chosen by Katie Dawson; and Erica Fromdahl's costumes and make-up reflect each character's distinct personality.
In the midst of the family's collective and personal chaos, the playwright's bottom line still manages to be: Love (eventually) conquers all on this crazy-but-bittersweet Christmas Eve, with "Some Assembly Required."
The show ends this weekend with performances at 7:30 p.m. in Gist Hall Theatre on Thursday, Dec. 8; Friday, Dec. 9; Saturday, Dec. 10. It closes with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Dec. 11. Tickets are $10/$8 (with a few free seats for HSU students each show). Call 826-3917 for advance reservations, or get tickets at the door.
Evan Needham plays dad and Romy Clugston plays mom in the weird, off-beat HSU production of "Some Assembly Required."