A Nice Family Gathering by Phil Olson

Dates and Venue 26 Feb - 27 Mar Wed-Sat @ 8pm and Matinees 2.00 p.m. 7 & 21 Mar | Metro Theatre (1370 SW Marine Drive, Vancouver)

Reviewer Nila Gopaul

On its opening night, A Nice Family Gathering had to compete against Vancouver's 2010 Olympic Fever and the fight for the Men's Bronze Medal in hockey: Finland versus Slovakia. Still, it's Thanksgiving for the Lundeen family and the show must go on.

The comedy set in a small town in Minnesota, U.S.A, is most likely also set in the 21st century: one sibling Stacy (Erin Miller) is an engineer and female and (... you'll see); the wife of older brother Michael, Jill (Eby Luking), is trying to get pregnant and is on hormones that, like the pituitary gland, stimulate her ovaries to release an egg; and BMW is still a symbol of wealth.

This is a delightful, entertaining and moving play. From the moment Carl (Johnny Gingell) enters, we are drawn to this dynamic, round character. As he walks up the steps to his home, he has a conversation with his old neighbour, Mrs. Enquist. She is odd. She talks about the size of his feet and his head. How they have grown. The audience laughs. Carl hasn't been home in a while, we gather. Carl is a gentleman and he handles himself well. To her question, "How do ya walk?" he smiles and answers, "Oh ya know, like everyone else."

This is the first Thanksgiving without the family patriarch, Dad (played by Harry Seddon). Thanksgiving won't be the same. Mom won't be the same. The spirit of Thanksgiving won't be the same. Carl calls for his mom as soon as he gets in the door. "Anybody home? Mom? Hello? Mom?" Mom (played by Sue Sparlin) dashes out and refers to Carl as Michael, his perfect married brother and doctor (Steven Charlton) married to pretty Jill. Mom seems to be losing it. She suffers from anxiety attacks and cries out absurdities such as "I like jumbo shrimp!"

When Dad appears as an apparition, he has a favor to ask, and he needs it on Thanksgiving while the family is finally gathered together. The only family member that can see Dad is Carl. Dad is desperate and threatens Carl that he'll go to Purgatory if his favor is not granted, if his unfinished business remains unresolved.

Here lies the conflict between the protagonist and his father. A relationship develops and evolves between the two men that never perceived to have germinated when Dad was alive. Carl who drives a Pillsbury Dough truck and writes a weekly column called "Carl's Random Observations" has never quite felt loved like his older "successful" brother.

The rest of the family soon appears at the Lundeen family home including a guest, Dad's golf buddy, Jerry (John Kevener), who may be sweet on mom. We prepare ourselves for a nice family gathering. Michael and Jill are the perfect foils. They help us see their own real-life problems. With Stacy in the mix, we see a quirky dysfunctional family. We can recognize in all these characters what we see in our own families.

Tears were shed on opening night. Every one of the cast was terrific.There were emotional moments. Harry Seddon, Johnny Gingell and Sue Sparlin really tug on our heart strings, especially just before the closing scene.

We left our comfortable seats at the Metro Theatre, reminded by the recurring theme: "How do ya walk?" "Oh ya know, like everyone else." Isn't that how we walk through life? Isn't that how we get along?

© 2010 Nila Gopaul