Playwrights Amy Chini and Tom Zohar’s Off the Ground may well become the alternative Christmas play. It has the elements that make for a good holiday play. There is conflict, there is personality, and there is a happy ending. Why alternative? There is, also, profanity. Lots of it, but not one word gratuitous.
84-year-old Grampa Dick (Charlie Riendeau) lost his one and only wife four years ago and is still trying to cope. His roommate, late twenties grandson Joel (Francis Gercke), is suffering through the first year of his divorce with his young daughter off with his ex- and her current boyfriend. The whole family is coming over for a long Christmas stay.
This family has not been together in quite some time and they are all staying in Grampa Dick’s large house. Joel’s older sister, Susan (Wendy Waddell) and her husband, Luke (Terry Scheidt) are in a tense marriage. Susan is a very successful realtor, while sous chef Luke has just been fired from his job yet again. It seems he is a bit too outspoken, referring to his last boss as an ***hole.
Mother Virginia (Sandra Ellis-Troy) is an overly protective mother (read: controlling). Her husband, Jim (Jack Missett), would be content to have just a bit of peace and quiet. They have brought along lovely Donna (Amanda Morrow), a divorcee just about Joel’s age. And Mom doesn’t think she’s manipulative.
Off the Ground is excellently scripted with authentic sounding dialog. As the plot thickens Director Joshua Everett Johnson raises the volume of his actors, then creates a cacophony of ranting, raving, and just plain gibberish with overlapping dialog. One can easily see why this family does not have frequent family reunions.
Watching Morrow react to the various conversations and escalating confrontations, one can almost read her thoughts: “Been there, done that,” “I’m glad this isn’t my family,” Why am I here?”, “Poor Joel, what does he think of me?”, and much more. She maintains a constant counterpoint to the power points of this family’s dysfunction. Fine, almost silent performance.
The rest of the cast performed with gusto, some running the emotional scale of one to ten rapidly, others slowly building their emotions, and gramps just sitting back watching. Off the Ground is exceptional because all of the elements, from writing and directing to action and design create a unity. New Village Arts has produced another in a long string of excellent theatre. This is a must-see, highly realistic production, unless profanity is offensive to you.
Charlie Riendeau, Francis Gercke, Wendy Waddell, Terry Scheidt, Sandra Ellis-Troy, Jack Missett, Amanda Morrow
SM Avalon Hernandez, Costume/Scenic Design Kristianne Kurner, Light Design Ashley Jinks, Sound Design Adam Brick, Props P. J. Anbey
Total Rating: Three Stars
Author: Amy Chini and Tom Zohar
Director: Joshua Everett Johnson
Date Reviewed: February 10, 2007
Dates: Thursday thru Sunday, December 1 to 23, 2007
Running Time: 107 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
Caution Guidance Adult Language
New Village Arts Theatre
2787B State Street
Box Office Phone: 760 433-3245