Anyone who had dinner with their relatives during the holiday season knows that family gatherings can be gruesome in even the best of times. In the new production from Elora Community Theatre, not even the hereafter can stem the tide of familial angst.
In A Dying Family Tradition, a new play running January 18-26 at the Fergus Grand Theatre, a young woman arrives home from her mother’s funeral to discover that reports of her demise have been exaggerated. Yes, mother has returned as a ghost, and pretty soon she is joined by the ghost of her dear, departed husband – and, adding to the intrinsic stress of the situation, a long-lost sibling also materializes.“As you can imagine, madness and mayhem ensue,” said director Robin Bennett, who handpicked the play by Niagara-on-the-Lake-based playwright Diane Lococo. “She often writes about families, and all families, especially families in plays, are dysfunctional to some extent, and often with hilarious results.”
Does Bennett identify with any of the dysfunctional shenanigans in A Dying Family Tradition? “Well, as the father of two daughters, yes!”
The cast is loaded with local theatre veterans, including Liz Dennis, Kat Gregg, James Barry and Jason Seelmann. “I’ve done both professional and amateur theatre over my career, and these guys are as good as they get,” said Bennett. “Comedy, as you know, is really all about the timing. As a director, you make choices on how things might flow, and you can direct your actors to at least some extent, but it really comes down to the actors’ ability to be truthful to the text.”
In particular, Bennett points to Emma Barr, a Fergus native and recent Toronto theatre school graduate, as someone to watch. “She’s just starting out, and she’s a treat to work with, and I think people will enjoy her on the stage.”
Elora Community Theatre stresses that the show is an adult comedy, in keeping with Lococo’s sharply satiric track record. Journalist Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall once wrote that Lococo “is ruthless in her observation – targeting bores, barons, tradesmen and traitors all with the same laser-point accuracy. No one is safe in the land of Lococo.”
“She really has quite a wit,” said Bennett. “Sometimes it’s a very dry wit, and sometimes it’s very pointed. She has a really great way with words.”
Bennett has directed plays across Ontario, including several by Lococo. In his experience, he has learned the delicate art of directing comedy.
“Often, comedy is best done when it’s played completely straight,” he said. “Plays are about extraordinary people under extraordinary circumstances. If you play for laughs, it isn’t funny. You’ve got to play for the truth of the text, and you’ve got to play it dead serious, and that’s where it’s really funny.”
The play will run for six performances. In addition, it is an official candidate for the Western Ontario Drama League Festival, to be held in Guelph during March Break. The matinee on January 20 will include a post-performance public adjudication.
The Elora Community Theatre production of A Dying Family Tradition runs January 18-20 and January 24-26 at 8 p.m. (with a 2 p.m. matinee January 20) at the Fergus Grand Theatre. Tickets are $20 ($17 for seniors) available by calling 519-787-1981, at the box office (244 St. Andrew St. W., Fergus) or online through the group’s website (www.eloracommunitytheatre.com).