Sunday, October 19, 2014

Enjoyable “Making God Laugh” at Actors’ Summit

Families can be interesting to observe.  Take for example, the family who is the subject of Sean Grennan’s “Making God Laugh,” the 125th main stage production of Actors’ Summit. 

The quintet are functional, but with some over-arching problems, mainly centering on Ruthie, an obsessive-compulsive wife and mother.  Ruthie, who believes rules are rules, traditions are traditions, and none these are up for discussion or change.

Ruthie’s “absolutes” include serving her foul tasting and smelling Fantasia Dip on every holiday, the infallibility of the Catholic church, her drive for making everything “perfect,” and her harassing two of her three children. Only Thomas, the youngest, who, at the start of the play is a priest-in training, is exempt.  The oldest son, Rick/Rickie/Richard, an alcoholic “wanna be” playboy, whose life centers on “a guy told me” get-rich schemes, purchases of off brand and weirdly colored cars, such as a “pink” Gremlin, wears trendy clothing, and perceives himself as a woman’s man.

Then there is middle child, Maddie.  Insecure Maddie, a lesbian, would-be actress and sometime teacher, is the constant recipient of her mother’s attempts to get her married, bring forth grandchildren, and be the duplicate of “Ruthie’s former best “friend.”

Bill is a quiet, undemonstrative dad and enabling husband, who puts up with Ruthie’s manipulations and control, including sleeping in a separate bedroom, for no other reason than that he loves her.  But even that parameter meets its match when Ruthie finally goes too far.

This a family filled with unresolved issues, met and unmet dreams, and angst.  Yes, a family, like many families. The negatives come forward during the holidays.  Ah, yes, the holidays, which are supposed to be happy times, but often, as is true of other stressing situations such as weddings, turn from happy anticipation to intra-family squabbles.

As outsiders looking in, the audience can laugh at the idiocy, sigh as they relive similar personal comparisons, and feel the tug of heart strings as each family member changes before our eyes due to attitude changes, realizations, and physical and mental illnesses.

The play covers three decades, each accented by a holiday.  First, there’s Thanksgiving (1980)…the era of green and gold furniture, David Hasselhoff, polyester clothing, words like “cool,” and “Fantasy Island” on television. 

Then comes Christmas Eve (1990)…gas selling for $1.16 a gallon, Pinto autos, Tom Sellick, huge portable phones with bad reception, sideburns, and dudes in denim duds. 

Next, it’s New Year’s Eve, 2000.  Yes, the time of the Y2K prediction of the millennium bug, the impending apocalypse, changes in the Catholic church, the forecast of Google, the fall of Enron, and soy beans as the farm crop of choice. 

The last scene is Easter Morning, in 20??...sometime in the near future.  When reality sets in, the “children” have found their niches in life, the physical and psychological woes of the elders are apparent, “pleasant dementia” is on display, and a new reality and family dynamics have set in and need to be managed.

The dramedy’s title was inspired by a Woody Allen’s classic line, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”  This family had its plans and they make not only God, but the audience laugh, in the process of watching these plans followed, changed, accomplished, and fall apart.

“Making God Laugh” is formulaic, more television than theatre in its writing style.  It’s not Neil Simon or Woody Allen funny, more “Modern Family” cute.  It does have its “ah ha” moments and “aw isn’t that nice” inclusions.

The Actors’ Summit production is nicely paced by director Neil Thackaberry.  The natural farcical instances are stressed, the laughs are abundant.

MaryJo Alexander’s costume designs are era-exaggerated, especially carried out in Rick’s garb and hairstyles and Maddie’s wardrobe.

The cast, Chanda Porter (Ruthie), James Hill (Bill), Keith E. Stevens (Richard), Shani Ferry (Maddie), and Adam Klusty (Thomas) develop consistent characterizations.  These are theater characters, not real life people, and are portrayed as such with exaggerated facial expressions and body movements.

Capsule judgement:  “Making God Laugh” is one of those nice escapist evenings of theater that will induce laughter, cause nostalgic trips to yesteryear for the more mature members of the audience, and incite awareness of the fears of some as they look forward to the “golden” years.   
“Making God Laugh” runs at Actors’ Summit, located in Greystone Hall, 6th floor, 103 S. High Street, Akron, through November 2, 2014.  For tickets call 330-374-7568 or go to

Actors’ Summit’s next show is “Hound of the Baskervilles, the original Sherlock Holmes story, which runs from November 26-December 21, 2014.