REVIEW: Comedy and family tensions ripple in CAT’s latest

Performances run through to Dec. 17th at the Black Knight Inn

Central Alberta Theatre’s second dinner theatre of the season – Sean Grennan’s Making God Laugh – is off and running at the Black Knight Inn through to Dec. 17th.

Dinner starts at 6 p.m. with the show following.

Directed by CAT veteran Erna Soderberg, Making God Laugh follows a family over the course of 30 years’ worth of holidays and get-togethers.

Starting in 1980, Ruthie (Carla Falk) and Bill’s (Blaine Anderson) grown children – a priest, an aspiring actress and a former football star – return home where we learn of their plans and dreams as they embark on their adult lives.

It’s a hoot seeing things start off way back in 1980, complete with the zany fashions of the time plus the cultural references which will bring back lots of memories for those old enough to remember (like me). The same goes for the gathering in 1990 and in 2000 – remember all the crazy hype over Y2K?

These get-togethers, however, aren’t overly pleasant experiences.

Bill and Ruthie have their own challenges to face, plus old but serious tensions with the kids inevitably zip to the surface.

The thing is Ruthie just has to have everything ‘perfect’ – or at least how she would see ‘perfect’ as being.

Daughter Maddie (Meloni Jordan) is a significant disappointment because she’s pursuing an acting career. Plus Ruthie is always picking at her because of her clothes or her weight. The comments are cruel and it’s hard to understand why Ruthie, in general, is so unkind – and it’s all under the rather self-pitying guise of ‘loving’ her family and wanting the best for them.

But Maddie isn’t the only one who is a target – Richard (Perry Mill) is rather a big disappointment to mom, too. After all, he’s kind of aimless, floating from one job or project to another over the years. On the other hand, Ruthie is downright crazy about her third son – Father Thomas (David Henderson) because he has wisely chosen to be a ‘man of the cloth’.

Plays like this are tricky to pull together, because while there are lots of witty zingers, snappy comebacks and well-delivered and sharply crafted lines that crackle – it’s all put together with a story about a family where there is a lot of anger and repressed misery.

Bringing the comedy out – while not squelching the drama that is unfolding – is the key, and to her credit, Soderberg is mostly successful at doing this.

Anderson is great as Bill, who loves his wife but, at least for the first stretch of time, does little if anything to curb her judgmental jabs. When he finally does confront her, you can almost ‘hear’ the collective sigh of relief rippling across the audience.

Henderson and Jordan are also really strong in their roles – Jordan in particular because of the simmering tension she must portray as she faces off against Ruthie’s constant judging.

And Perry Mills perhaps has the most fun part to play – and Mills is the right guy for the part, no question. Richard – or Rick, as he unsuccessfully tries to train his family to call him – has the quirkiest personality of the bunch and Mills is certainly having a blast interpreting it.

As Ruthie, Falk delivers a performance with all the steeliness and obliviousness one would expect from such a character.

The problem comes from the character though – there isn’t much to like about Ruthie, so it’s hard to connect with her or feel for her – right to the end of the play when she’s become more vulnerable.

This has little to do with Falk’s interpretation and much more to do with how the character has been shaped in the script.

Normally in stories like this, we see something redeeming about even the most grating of characters. Then, by the end, when there are positive changes, we rally in support. But Ruthie hits the nasty note and pretty much stays there – to greater or lesser degrees. It may be covered up to a degree in propriety, but it’s there just the same.

Stories like this count on a few things – an audience’s ability to connect to the goings-on, our amusement at those awkward family situations and clashes that – let’s face it – we can all relate to.

And there are funny moments bubbling up throughout this show – no question.

I just wish there was a bit more about Ruthie to root for. But she has an unrelenting tunnel vision when it comes to what she expects from her family – for the bulk of the play, anyways. How funny folks in the audience find her, and Making God Laugh in general, may depend on their own experiences.

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