Review By Elizabeth Ahlfors




What is more All-American than the annual family dinner, say Thanksgiving? Playwright Kate Benson decides to give this traditional domestic comedy/tragedy an imaginative bizarre twist. She keeps all the traditional elements except we never see the turkey, stuffing, even a drop of gravy or the round table. Viewing it as a sports event, two announcers, called @ and # (Ben Williams and Hubert Point-DuJour) broadcast the action from their niche above the stage, which, incidentally, is designed as a quirky basketball court. Now playing in association with the Women’s Project Theater at City Center Stage II , @ and # give color commentary to the Wembly folks in A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes.

Directed by Lee Sunday Evans, dinner is prepared by Cheesecake (Brooke Ishibashi) – yes, that’s her name – who is hosting this traditional turkey dinner and calls all the plays, and her sisters, Cherry Pie (Heather Alicia Sims) and Trifle (Nina Hellman). With choreographed, athletic movements, Cherry Pie and Trifle follow Cheesecake’s instructions, first setting up the imaginary table on the basketball court/stage. This is very important. As @ points out, “An off-centered table can spell disaster on a day like today.” The sisters precisely measure where the chairs and place settings go and have a touchy moment about having enough room. Finally Cherry Pie goes off to make another leaf for the table.

Arriving family members with more wacky names include SnapDragon (Mia Katigbak) and Grandada (Gerry Bamman), the sisters’ husbands, Fred, Ned and Ted. Also Runnerman, Republican and his wife, the Twins, Smilesinger and other colorful relatives arrive, all performed by Jessica Almasy and Christian Felix. It is questionable if Cherry Pie’s troublesome black sheep daughter, Gumbo (Kristine Haruna Lee), will make it, but she does, with dire consequences. As @ says, “Gumbo’s status as an asset to the team is frequently in question.” A host of babies are put in another room, door closed, and we don’t see them until a preposterous finale.

Cheesecake is in charge of the kitchen, although she later has to call in her mother, SnapDragon to check if she has gotten the gravy right. The gravy makes all the difference with the dinner. The announcers recall “The Gravy Boat Episode of 1979!” when, adds #, “The wallpaper was never the same again.”

Evans keeps the pace fast with moment-by-moment darting, gliding and swooping across the floor as the table gets set, the potatoes peeled and the bird turned. The sportscasters follow the hold-your-breath. turkey-turning episode. @ comments, “Time is of the essence. Too long out of the oven and the bird may begin to dry out.” # responds, “Nothing worse than a dry bird.” There is a muttered moment of controversy about this in the sports box, but this is only one of the many squabbling moments in this, and any holiday gathering.

Thankfully, most Thanksgiving dinners can’t match the Wembly family’s surreal craziness but Benson’s new look at an old tradition offers moments of delightful humor, especially from the announcers. It also has spots of sameness. The cast energy is high but unfortunately, except for Cheesecake in her harrowing kitchen moments and the messed-up Gumbo, the characters are mechanized and emotionless. As the absurdity winds to a devilish dark finale, it’s obvious that while Benson’s conceit is imaginative, the feeling is stylized. You wouldn’t call this production a turkey but it’s not haute cuisine either.


A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes was developed in The New Georges Jam. This is Kate Benson’s first produced play and originally premiered in May 2014.  It is currently presented in association with Women’s Project Theater at City Center Stage II (131 West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues) from January 12 to February 7. The show runs 75 minutes, no intermission. http://wptheater.org/show/a-beautiful-day-in-november-on-the-banks-of-the-greatest-of-the-great-lakes.

*Photo: Heather Phelps-Lipton