Cranbrook Community Theatre’s family-themed season opens tonight with an intimate look at ourselves — that is, a family whose members seeks to grow and change, and at the same time stay unchanging.
“Making God Laugh” takes us into the heart of a Catholic, middle class family — Bill and Ruthie and their three children, Maddie, Richard (Ricky) and Thomas — and takes us on a 30-year trip from the kids’ early adulthood to their own edge of retirement. The decades are encapsulated into three family holidays — rather, four, sort of — with the three grown kids returning home each time from their careers in the world.
We meet Ricky (David Booth), the son who’s always “sowing his oats,” and seems to have trouble moving on from the athletic triumphs of his youth. Ricky’s entrance tells us he’s the jester of the piece, with his fantastic, fabulous ’80s hair-do, and his enthusiasm for to the fad of the day, changing with each decade.
Maddie, the daughter, is pursuing an acting career, though that seems to have trouble getting off the ground.
Thomas (Woody Maguire), the “good son,” is training to be a priest when we meet him in 1980 — the great pride of his parents.
Bill the father (Michael Prestwich) is a gentle and stable soul, the beta to Ruthie’s alpha. His consistency is what holds together a group of personalities always in danger of drifting apart.
But the play, and the characters, revolve around the large-sized personality of Ruthie, the mother (Melodie Hull) — and the family nemesis that is her traditional holiday fare, the Fantasia Dip.
We develop a great affection for the characters as they present themselves with all their quirks, as their family dynamic is introduced and played out. But as the years progress, a sober, darker undercurrent appears under the comedy — with almost a tragic element. What is the nature of this tragedy? Ruthie herself will tell us — it’s what makes God laugh. You will find out when you go.
Ruthie is a lioness, but her cheerful bourgeois demeanor masks angers and disappointments that are largely directed at her daughter. It is Ruthie’s relationship with Maddie that is the main storyline — and their pulling apart from each other. It is a relationship fraught with failure to communicate or to understand.
The spirit of each decade is captured in broad strokes, a few key phrases, a prop, Ricky’s latest fashion or acquisition. The characters’ lives, plans that have worked out or not, and their inner reactions to them, are revealed in a telling sentence or line. The characters’ lives change greatly, but we in the audience follow along, and get to know them better and better. But it’s Ruthie’s inability to change along with her children that forces the play to its final crisis. It will be Bill’s sudden emotional response to the play’s final crisis that will pull everyone back together.
There are many madcap comic moments in “Making God Laugh,” and the actors plumb depths to give us a great emotional edge. As we clip through the years, it’s not until later on that we realize we’re watching a universal portrait of our own families, our difficulties, failures, estrangements, small victories, reconciliations and enlightenments.
“Making God Laugh,” written by Sean Grennan, directed by Trevor Lundy, and produced by Brenda Babinski, launches Cranbrook Community Theatre’s 2015/16 season, and opens tonight at the Studio Stage Door in Cranbrook, Friday, Oct. 9. It runs Oct. 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23, 24. Tickets are available at Lotus Books or at the door.