What a lovely surprise. It's rare you find a production at the Hollywood Fringe Festival that goes above and beyond what a typical Fringe performance is able to achieve on a limited budget, rehearsal time, set and sometimes even talent. Artists might use the excuse that their show is in workshop mode, or a work in progress, opening up the possibility for an incomplete or underdeveloped script. That is not the case at all with Thanksgiving, the hilarious, tightly knit dark comedy by Tiffany Cascio currently running at the Lounge Theatre.
My theatre-going companion for this Fringe production was Ben, a musical theatre writer also currently running his own Fringe show Songs of the Fall over at the Actors Company. We were both spending pretty much the entire day bouncing around Fringe shows (as one does in the month of June) and luckily found a space in our schedule to catch one together. On this afternoon, we paid my first visit to the Lounge Theatre venue. And my oh my. Not only did I love the cozy little spot, but the show was a complete treat.
At first I was hesitant. We enter into the preparation of a dysfunctional family Thanksgiving and it had the potential to get a little campy. The audience, clearly filled with family, friends and forthright supporters is booming with laughter and vocal response from the very first scene. I'm a little nervous, like this could end up being an ABC Family Thanksgiving special. It does take me almost half an hour to buy into all the characters, but then I'm sold. As the story unfolds, each character is fully committed to their objectives, has a plethora of great jokes in their back pocket and all were backed by very driven performances. Everyone has a shining moment, a complete emotional arc and everyone is comedically present. Plus, each character has a great, cathartic release of some kind. As an actor, you really couldn't ask for a more complete script, which was awesome and really allowed for the actors to take ownership of their roles. The script is very well-rounded. Tonally, it's almost like August: Osage County-Lite. Plenty of explosions of family wrath, some so awful you have no choice but to laugh. The play really has everything that could possibly go wrong at an adult family Thanksgiving, so naturally it does get a little messy, but it cleans up nicely.
What did the show make me want to change about myself? That can be tough to find sometimes with comedies, but the way the family is forced to laugh at their misery, and realize that they have somewhat thrived on it for years, kind of brought me back to earth with some similar "family matters" I've experienced. As the eldest daughter in my family, it was interesting to find myself relating to both Chloe, the perfectionistic, Stepford Wives wannabe sister (played by Allison Youngberg) and Victoria, the more passive yet equally crazy run-down sister working in film production (played by Susan Louise O'Connor). Sometimes I am the one at these holidays (but actually) trying to get my totally uninterested family to play just ONE game. And sometimes I'm drinking Slivovitz in the corner with my cousin accepting the fate of our family's chronic depression and gaping breach between us and "normalcy." But as the play portrays, EVERYONE has their shit, no matter how "normal" they try to come off. So, going into the next cycle of family gatherings, this show makes me want to go into these situations with love. Everyone's dealing with their own struggles and instead of bringing up baggage or why things aren't working, I need to just be a good listener, offering encouragement when necessary and love always. Seriously will need to pep talk that to myself before 4th of July this year...
The only thing I might recommend for future productions would be further developing the title, perhaps something that may go a bit farther beyond in serving the plot. Also wishing this group even better production design value in a future production of this play, because the script deserves it!
If you can squeeze it in, be sure to catch one of the final performances of Thanksgiving at the Hollywood Fringe Festival through Friday June 23. Definitely a contender for Pick of the Fringe. Hopefully it will see more productions in the future, but catch this one before it's too late!