Logan Fringe Arts Space: Upstairs

Remaining Performances (tickets available here):

Thursday, July 23 at 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 26 at 12:15 p.m.

They say: Grab a plate and sharpen your knives for an unforgettable Thanksgiving dinner with the Ryans, where family battles are as bitter as the cranberry sauce and surprises pour out like stuffing.

Peter’s take: The exceptional talent on stage in Ryan S. Taylor’s staging of Mark Jason Williams’s 2013 play raises the production above the level of its uneven script. While the play itself offers little you haven’t already seen elsewhere, this show is worth it just for the caliber of the actors.

Williams provides a simple story of an egregiously dysfunctional family gathered at home over a weekend. But his play less evokes that other Williams — Tennessee — than an episode of HBO’s Six Feet Under. His script is a Bingo card of Big Issues — adultery, drug abuse, alcoholism, death, homophobia, atheism, and even a touch of larceny. His characters are mainly defined by which of these issues are on their personal checklists.

The Ryan family has gathered at home in upstate New York for the return of the long-absent paterfamilias on Thanksgiving (though, except for a few references to a turkey in the oven, the holiday plays no role). His wife Cathy (Kim Tuvin) has awaited his return like a suburban Penelope, in long denial about the true character of her less-than-saintly spouse.

Cathy is the core of the play, the source from which her children’s neuroses emanate, and Tuvin is spellbinding as a woman about to burst who manages to keep a false smile painted on her face. She is contrasted by Marie (Jenny Donovan), her black sheep sister who acts as a sort of id, saying the things Cathy cannot.

Fringe veteran (and Fringeworthy contributor) Rachel Manteuffel is particularly impressive as daughter Melissa. Manteuffel plays this prodigal child with simmering rage, neatly clipping her lines as if Melissa fears that letting too much loose would immolate her family’s mirage of normalcy. Sean McComas also impresses as Kip, boyfriend to closeted son James.

The success of these performances is due in no small part to Taylor’s skillful direction. The Logan Fringe Upstairs theater is in the round, which has stymied other productions this year but which Taylor uses to great effect, having actors begin scenes offstage and circling on to enter, and using the set to mirror contrasting dialogue.

The Ryans may not be the best company for a holiday weekend, but these actors merit 85 minutes of your time. They also merit a better script for next year’s Fringe.

See it if: You want to see some of the best acting at Fringe.

Skip it if: You’d prefer something a bit Fringier.

Handout photo courtesy of Loretta Michael Productions