Best Medicine has staked out the comedy territory, and overall, they produce very funny shows. Throughout the closures of the pandemic, they produced a beautifully staged version of “Roaring” and had readings and movies and kept their theatre alive and true to its mission.
…sheer, zany fun…
Now, comes their second in-person, post-pandemic show (“Prepping for Widowhood” was the first)—and it’s their holiday offering. The show does offer some very funny laughs. It has a rom-com set-up that is absurd, silly and a mostly likable piece of fluffy holiday fare—and it’s carried off by a sextet of actors that are pretty darn good at comedy. The script also has some real clunkers—mostly directed at people from Utah (not necessarily Mormons, but Christians) doing missionary work in Africa. The tone in these lines is condescending, drips with colonialism, and was stereotypical 40+ years ago. Kevine Levine (a screenwriter for “Cheers,” “Frasier,” “M*A*S*H,” among others and prolific playwright) finished the play in 2019 and its first reading was in Los Angeles—so this is not old material. There are parts of the play that have the wonderful sardonic, witty, riposte-style zingers and asides for which much of his writing is known. The parts of the script dealing with these missionaries in Africa may be trying to skewer them and their unconscious attitudes of benevolent white privilege, but they don’t. At best, these lines (which don’t really add anything to the script) are awkward and insulting. After the exquisitely produced and performed “Roaring” (a history of women’s rights in the 20th century), the choice of this play is a bit of a surprise and a letdown.
The setup of the play is that Wendy (Kathleen Barth) and Gary (Evan Crump) are have been divorced for nearly a year but she still hasn’t told her ultra-religious mother (Jean Rosolino) and constantly belittling father (Mickey Trimarchi)—and that she is dating someone else, Chip (Rocky Nunzio, whom we meet toward the end of the second act). The other character is Wendy’s best friend from high school, Karen (Abigail Weinel), who is on leave from missionary work in Uganda. Wendy bribes Gary to accompany her back home to Utah four days over Christmas and pretend they are still married. These plans never go well—haven’t any of these people (even in Utah) ever seen a Lifetime movie?
While the plan don’t go well (this is not a subtle plot), the play does have some very funny moments, interactions, and the happy ending that the season calls for, especially after nearly two years of a pandemic.
As Gary, Crump is simply hysterical. He lands a line so easily and off-handedly that you just want to go out for a beer with this guy and talk—whatever ails you would just slip away. Barth (Wendy) has a difficult role. She has no humor and she’s anxious, controlling, in denial about a childhood of fearing her mother will die if one of the Ten Commandments is broken, and never, ever getting validation from her father. Plus, she has a lot of that American individualism where it’s considered a weakness to ask for help or not be eternally optimistic. But Barth pulls it off with enough vulnerability in the character that you want her to be okay. Besides, it’s not easy being the straight man for five other characters.
As the mom, Rosolino is a pistol. It seems she is losing her filter as she and her husband age (they are supposedly in their 60s-early 70s). She’s still very traditional in her thinking—particularly when it comes to women’s roles (she’s a little like Archie Bunker in that regard). Her daughter has won an important national marketing award, and she brushes that aside to focus on when she’ll get pregnant and be a mom. On the other hand, it turns out she has 15 years (that she acknowledges—it’s really been 30) of being miserable in her marriage and she’s tired of that. Trimarchi finally comes down from his daughter’s old bedroom to greet the arrival of best friend Karen. He’s been holed up in that room since August and not speaking to his wife. His is not a sympathetic character. He constantly belittles his daughter, openly ogles Karen (well, so does Gary, but he makes it funny) in front of his wife and daughter, and is dismissive of his wife.
Weinel had some fun with Karen. She turned to missionary work after being a contender for Miss Universe, so she’s accustomed to being feted for her beauty. A great deal is made out of how in high school she never turned into a mean girl because (you can see this coming) she wanted to be as kind as Wendy, and was beautiful enough to forge her own path. She turns out to be the lever that will bring truth and reconciliation to this family.She gets to resolve her daddy issues in a very wholesome way—she also has a good grasp of comedic timing.
The final character, Chip. I’m not sure why he’s really there, except to throw a spanner in the works when he shows up unexpectedly to propose to Wendy (everyone still thinks she and Gary are married at this point). He’s a lawyer, stalker-ish in a puppy-dog way, and writes love poems (bad ones, evidently). Nunzio has the deer-in-the-headlights look down pat and the slick, superficial charm of a stereotypical Hollywood lawyer.
Stan Levin directs and he understands that farce requires a brisk pace and keeps it moving. Costume designer Elizabeth Kemmerer creates looks that are perfect for upper-middle class, white suburbanites. Stan Levin also designed the homey set which reflects the comfortable aesthetic of grandma’s house. John Morogiello handles the light, set, and sound design (the latter two with Stan Levin again). The light and sound add to the feeling of returning to your childhood home as an adult.
If you are looking for a comforting fairy tale with a happy ending, this will fit the bill. It’s just sheer, zany fun but with some very tone-deaf moments.
Running Time: Less than two hours with a 10-minute intermission.
Show Advisory: Some adult innuendo. For mature teens and older.
“On The Farce Day of Christmas” runs through December 12, 2021 at Best Medicine Rep, Lakeforest Mall, 701 Russell Avenue, Gaithersburg, MD 20877. For more information, please click here.