Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Family Thanksgiving given a delicious sendup

Green Bay Community Theater

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Family Thanksgiving dinners, everybody knows, can be doozers.

Creating one of the dooziest (nutty, etc.) is the goal of Green Bay Community

Theater’s production of “Thanksgiving on Serendipity Lane” that’s running to Nov. 19.

It starts with the approach that what is going to transpire on stage is like a football game. As the audience arrives, sounds from a football stadium are heard. Crowd sounds, band music, the playing of the “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a general aura of lotsa people doing lotsa stadium-y stuff is in the air. The pre-show announcement is by two male announcers saying footbally stuff that applies to theatery stuff. Like: “The team’s ready, Frank.”

This all sets the tone that there’s going to be a rumble.

And there is, in comedy-theater ways.

Jane and George are hosting their first family Thanksgiving Day dinner in their new home on Serendipity Lane. “You know what this means?” Jane says. George replies, “Yeah, a 30-year mortgage at 6½ percent.”

Soon to arrive are the couple’s college-student daughter, Lisa, who brings along an uninvited guest, Rog; Grandma Helen, who’s in a wheelchair; and son Tony, who is to bring not only his wife, Candy, and their “princess” child, Cindy, but the focal element of the meal – the cooked turkey.

The good news: Never-on-time Tony, et al, are on time this time. The rest of the news: Everything goes south from there.

I’ll try not to give the gags away, but a key element is Helen’s mouth and attitude. She announces she’s 86 and doesn’t care what she says. So everyone is fair game, and with this family of foible-filled folks, that’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

The production has a from-here familiarity. That starts with the playwright, Kathy Campshure, who lives in the region and writes plays with regularity for Oconto’s Machickanee Players, where “Thanksgiving on Serendipity Lane” premiered in 2015. Campshure’s characters are your friends, neighbors, or, too bad for you, your family members. Director Kristi Skrinska and creative folks at Green Bay Community Theater add localizing touches in the dining room set – framed Green Bay Packers stock on the back wall, a cheesehead hanging on a rack in the hallway, a framed jersey (#50 HAWK) on a side wall, etc.

The pre-show sounds and the Packers flavorings are individual to this production. They were not in the original. One thing that was in the original that’s not here is a book that Grandma Helen was reading as she was wheeled in: “Kama Sutra,” which said volumes about her character.

Green Bay Community Theater’s cast has a raucous, jolly time with the material. All the characters are send-ups.

Lisa (Mariah Engeldinger) is miffed because the best tragedy she can muster gets trumped.

Rog (Mike Horowitz) is the interloper dazzled by this family’s “normal.”

Cindy (Mya Ballerstein) is the snotty kid, par excellence.

Her dad, Tony (Kristofer Holly) wears the dunce cap well.

His wife, Candy (Jami Attaway Thompson), tops her brat-princess child by being the Drama Queen.

Helen (Sonya King) is like a confetti cannon of insults – PFUUUUMMMM – out they come, landing everywhere like little nuisances.

Jane (Kathy Treankler) is a wife who envisions things going just right, overlooking what she’s got for starter material.

George (Bill Sergott) is a guy guy who is kind of lippy as the challenged king of the castle.

On opening night Thursday, this entourage created many moments of audience reaction as the play bubbles along. Certain things Grandma Helen said got “Whoa”-type responses. While the play doesn’t always speed along – teasing interactions instead of getting to the point – it sure churns up comedic bursts.

To complete the football analogy, give the production six points as a touchdown as a team effort. Give Sergott an extra point for being on top of his voluble, modern-guy character the whole way. Give Sergott and Treankler an extra point for their homey husband-wife interchanges that open and close the performance. Give King a two-pointer in extra points for unleashing the rhythm of the devil-may-care persona.

***

Creative: Playwright – Kathy Campshure; director – Kristi Skrinska; assistant director/stage manager – Deborah Oettinger; master carpenter – Noah Villarreal; light/sound designer – Peter Wojtowicz; set dresser – Sandy Zochert; costume designer – Cindy Stein; props designer – Karen Konshak; hair/make-up – Carolyn Bruce

Cast: Jane – Kathy Treankler; George – Bill Sergott; Tony – Kristofer Holly; Candy – Jami Attaway Thompson; Helen – Sonya King; Lisa – Mariah Engeldinger; Rog – Mike Horowitz; Cindy – Mya Ballerstein

Running time: One hour, 45 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10; 4 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15, 16, 17; 4 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18; 2 p.m. Nov. 19

Info: gbcommunitytheater.com

***

NEXT: “Funny Valentines” by D.R. Andersen, Feb. 15-17, 21-25.

THE VENUE: A landmark on Green Bay’s west side, the 193-seat Robert Lee Brault Playhouse features elements of an earlier time as a church, built in 1854 (the current backstage dressing room), 1895 (auditorium) and 1911 (today’s Community Room). The most obvious remnants are the church’s peaked side-wall windows that held stained-glass windows. High-up triangular windows still contain stained glass, and their patterns can be seen playing on sunny days when the troupe has matinees. The auditorium includes a 30 by 23-foot open-end stage with no stage curtain. The troupe has remodeled some portions of the building with medieval touches, but the seating area retains elements of a church. The theater includes wooden arches with decorative geometric designs on the ends and exposed beams in the sharply angled ceiling. The troupe owns the building, which became its home in 1966. The Community Room serves as a gathering space for audiences prior to a performance and at intermission and for board and other internal meetings.

THE PERSON: Larger-than-life personality Robert Lee Brault was a longtime Green Bay Community Theater actor, director, scenic designer and managing director. He and his wife, Rita Brault, were mainstays from the time the troupe performed at various locations through the purchase of the present playhouse. Bob Brault died Nov. 1, 2015, in Florida at age 88.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My books, “Three Miles Past Lost and in the Pickers” and “Nickolaus and Olive – a naïve opera (in words)” and the award-winning “Real, Honest Sailing with a Great Lakes Captain,” are available online and in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum, Bosse’s and The Reader’s Loft.


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