Apollinaire Theatre’s wildly bizarre holiday offering, A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN NOVEMBER ON THE BANKS OF THE GREATEST OF THE GREAT LAKES (playing through January 16th), perches somewhere between a big bowl game and the traditional, dysfunctional Thanksgiving dinner.
Have you ever imagined, in the midst of a contentious family celebration with relatives you haven’t seen in ages, what would happen if the surreal goings-on were televised? If your answer is no, then skip to paragraph 3. If yes, read on. Kate Benson’s odd mash-up tickled me no end because I’ve experienced countless Thanksgiving dinners which I thought could be transferred directly to the stage. (In fact, I suspect that Ionesco and the Absurdists must have known my family intimately.)
Benson introduces two play-by-play announcers, high above courtside, to cover the meal. She very cleverly focuses on the minutiae of the day so that the smallest of details flourishes to illuminate a character’s essence: Positioning the table just so or putting English into mashing the potatoes tells you who’s in charge.
Three of the dueling matriarchs (all named after desserts) bicker and snipe while the commentators give us a “blow by blow” of the preparations for dinner. Worlds collide as the women move like linebackers deflecting passes, blocking touchdowns and managing a lateral or two as they prep the meal. Aunt Cheesecake (Mariela Lopez-Ponce in a tour de force) even exits en pointe. Then she reappears as a smashing Flamenco siren.
My favorite bit is the table leaf ritual, which I know by heart, whereby grown women lie on their backs and slide under the dining table like mechanics on creepers to secure the leaf in place. Pegs have to fit into holes and ropes have to be tied in case the pegs come loose, all this under a table, at right angles, with very little light to see what you’re doing. (I hadn’t thought of that harrowing undertaking in years!)
Just basting and turning the turkey becomes a perilous contact sport. Steve Auger provides the best moment in the show, wrestling the bird into submission. Because they can, Apollinaire has an actor stand in for the poor turkey. Michael Kelly makes a superb fowl… and he makes the wrestling match a righteous, albeit hopeless, rebellion. The actors are all top notch mimes: We know in a trice that Kelly is a turkey by his gait and by an unfurled palm which niftily stands in for tail feathers.
Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques (and movement choreographer Danielle Rosvally) have a smart cast in tow who can personate one character, then become another without leaving the stage, a feat which is both impressive and entertaining at the same time. Jade Guerra and Jeff Marcus are highly amusing as the broadcasters. Liz Adams and Dana Block are masters of the slow burn and who knew Ann Carpenter could rap (“Potatoes and Gravy”)!
Emily Edstrom excels in the quirky role of the outcast and Floyd Richardon tries to bring calm to the proceedings as grandpa. Sylvia Sword and the aforementioned Kelly are twins, siblings, spouses and Republicans, all of whom get their comeuppance via a plot twist no one will see coming, I’d bet on it.
If you enjoy theater of the absurd, then Benson’s oddball BEAUTIFUL DAY IN NOVEMBER will provide you with lively diversion and amaze you with its twist.