In-laws, Outlaws & Other People (That Should Be Shot) is a family farce centered around Christmas dinner taken hostage.
Holiday productions run the gamut from sappy like The Christmas Shoes, to the literary classic A Christmas Carol, all the way to variety shows like Radio City Christmas Spectacular. If In-laws, Outlaws & Other People (That Should Be Shot) were categorized, it would fall into the same niche as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – both over-the-top, slightly goofy and comedic critiques of the highs and lows of holidays and relatives.
The full-length play, directed by Jan Simpson and being put on by the Tater Patch Players through Sunday, Dec. 11, goes so far as to make literal the oh-so-common sentiment that holiday gatherings with extended family can feel less like merry making and more like a hostage situation. While they prepare for Christmas dinner at home, a family (and a few uninvited and slightly neurotic neighbors) are held at gunpoint by two robbers hiding from the police. As the play progresses and the house gradually fills up with family members and neighbors who find themselves trapped together, characters become increasingly snappy, biting and brutally honest. But, as is expected in any good Christmas comedy, the chaotic humor that makes up most of the production resolves into a final, heart-warming message. Captors and captives learn more about one another and, as we learn from one character, they start to display signs of the psychological impacts of a captor-hostage scenario and warm up to each other. This is the perfect show for adults and children who want to get a laugh out of the insanity that can be the holiday season, but still go home feeling warm and fuzzy inside.
In-laws, Outlaws & Other People (That Should Be Shot) is a relatively new screenplay written by Steve Franco in 2010 and takes place entirely in an upper-middle-class, but casual, home in New York. The setting is effectively conveyed by design and construction as plentiful and nuanced as the large 15-person cast. The show opens with Dad, played by Gary Boyles, and his perpetually snarky and vegetarian teenage daughter Beth, played by Jessie Ray, as they prepare for Christmas dinner while mom is out of town. They squabble over dinner guests and who’s going to set out the ham.
Despite Beth’s non-stop angsty sarcasm, this first scene is a lower-key introduction in a show that snowballs into the final, chaotic climax. Boyles, a newcomer to the stage, nails the level-headedness and everyone-get-along attitude required of the Dad character. This scene is also where we meet neighbor Mrs. Draper, played by Sherri Stoney, who hits a mousey, vocal timbre that gives her character that spot-on neighbor-no-one-wants-to-see-coming feel.
Beth’s aunt and uncle - who she not-so-affectionately calls the “space invader” and the “the redneck” - arrive from New Jersey to share in the Christmas festivities. With the help of a tacky tinsel-tree dress and bobbly Santa antlers, Audrey Kirsten does a fantastic job living up to the bubbly, flaky, overly-enthusiastic aunt Bunny. Jacob Clark - only in his third onstage performance - impresses with his portrayal of the unmannered, slightly crass uncle Bud. He has an ability to maintain body language that is relaxed and in character even if he has no speaking lines. The 14-year-old Jessie Griffin plays Tracy, Bud and Bunny’s daughter, and brings a calm softness that contrasts well with other characters in the play.
Newcomers Tony Greiner, as Tony, and Jesse Vance, as Vinny, play the bumbling robber duo that has a relationship similar to Harry and Marv, the “Wet Bandits” of the Home Alone movies. The intense Greiner rightly plays Tony as uptight, testy, and annoyed by what he sees as the family’s dysfunctional relationship. Vinny is dim-witted but good-natured. Vance is perfectly cast for the role and wins the audience’s heart by the end of the show.
Ginger Rosen, who plays Aunt Rose, and Steve Lewis, as Uncle Leo, are unquestionably the most seasoned and dynamic performers in the production. The pair serves as a kind of comedic cornerstone; a spatty couple married for over 50 years. Watching them play off one another is a sheer pleasure, and hilarious. Aunt Rose and Uncle Leo have some of the most well-written dialogue in the play, from memories of Irving Berlin to a favorite Jewish coffee joint, Hebrews, and a long-ago love interest.
Paul and Emily, played by Riley Goodman and Sammie Boyles, are the children of neighbor Mrs. Wakowski, played by Pat Northcutt. All three get unexpectedly thrown into the mix, adding another level of discord to the wild Christmas night. Goodman gives the blue-haired character an appropriately apathetic but friendly teen vibe, while Boyles delights with a quirky, fun presence. Northcutt, clad in clashing spandex and boots, does a superb job as crazy neighbor number two.
The last two characters the audience meets are Rhonda Mapes as the out-of-town mother Janet, and Dan Stoney as Officer Henley. Mapes and Stoney top off the show with lovely performances in smaller, but important, roles.
Community theater is fun because the audience never knows what it’s going to get --- plays usually have a mix of newbies and long-time actors, which is no different in this production. Expectedly, there are different levels of acting skill, but at the heart of community theatre is the fact that everyone gets a chance – it’s an available creative outlet for anyone who wants to try. One couple in attendance at last weekend’s matinee even drove up from Marietta because they love community theatre and do their best to support it.
Don’t miss your chance to support your own community theater by attending any of the upcoming productions of In-laws, Outlaws & Other People (That Should Be Shot), a farcical holiday show about families that families can enjoy together.
Remaining shows are: December 2nd and 3rd and December 9th and 10th at 7:30 p.m.; and two Sunday matinees on December 4th and 11th, both at 2 p.m.
You can purchase tickets online at www.taterpatchplayers.org or call the theater at 706-253-2800.