A Beautiful Day in November On the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes
By: Patrick Christiano
For playwright Kate Benson preparing a Thanksgiving Day dinner for the relatives is more like a highly charged basketball game. To set forth her clever premise in "A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes," the playwright Benson and director Lee Sunday Evans have put the action on a basketball court, where two stereotypical sports announcers in polyester suits are calling the fierce skirmish from the announcer’s booth above the playing court.
With odd names # in charge of action played by Ben Williams, and @ color commentary played by Hubert Point-Du Jour, the two, call all the action involved in the preparation for the big day from the announcer’s booth . Their glib style may be the highlight of the evening.
The family gathering for the holiday has unusual names as well, like Cheesecake played by Brooke Ishibashi, Cherry Pie played by Heather Alicia Simms, Trifle played by Nina Hellman, Snapdragon played by Mia Katigbak and Gumbo played by Kristine Haruna Lee.
And although the holidays are suppose to be happy times of togetherness, the tensions that are often stirred up between relatives at this time of the year are put on sharp display in Benson’s stylized farce with a weird off centered dark comedic side. The tense interactions of the participants that hit upon the ego devouring aspects of the family’s dynamic feel right.
Without a single prop, the cooking is represented by people running around in a choreographed stylized motion, against much chatter from the players and announcers. The result is effectively chaotic. Family tensions are alluded to, but not developed and Benson’s silly new show can become quite tedious even at only 75 minutes.
"A dicey move on Cheesecake’s part, letting Gumbo handle the china," @ says at one point. "She’s a smart player but weak on the fundamentals." Could they be referring to the playwright Benson?
The play was first presented by New Georges last year with a slightly different cast in association with Women’s Project Theater. The writing, direction and the performances work nicely, like a well tuned basketball team. The evening however is heavy on style and Ms Benson does bring a unique voice, but unfortunately there is little meat on the bones – all clever wordplay and little authentic action.
A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes is now playing at City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street through February 7. For tickets call 212-581-1212, or nycitycenter.org.
Photography: Heather Phelps-Lipton