By Wendy Carson
As bright and sparkly as they appear to be, for a large number of us the Holidays ramp up our depression and sorrow. Such is the situation with the Abrams clan in “A (Happy) Holiday,” presented by Theatre Unchained.
Grandmother Bunny (Wendy Brown), mother Busy (Jenni White) and daughter Leigh (Wilhelmena Dreyer) are not only dealing with the death of son-in-law/husband/father Owen (Bradley Lowe), but also their lack of connection with each other. Into this mess enters the gloriously anthropomorphized chemical compound, Sarah Tonin (Ariel Laukins) along with the ever-perky duo of Elf 1 (Anja Willis) and Elf 2 (Thomas Sebald) to deliver a present to make their Christmakkah (being a blended family, they have a blended holiday) complete.
Reluctantly the ladies work their way through a giant magical book with 12 chapters of Holiday memories, forcing them to face their past – no matter how good, bad, or ugly. Leigh just wants to move forward and find her true self regardless of what her mom or society demand of her. Busy wants Owen back and will settle for nothing else. Bunny, who just wants everyone to be happy and get along, seems to down a lot of “holiday cheer” to keep her distracted.
This show has numerous parodies of holiday movies and TV shows as well as other pop culture touchstones to keep the laughs coming. However, the story pulls no punches in showing the sadness and sorrow of these women. Each comes to terms with pivotal moments of their past that damaged them, yet taught them to grow and carry on, to be their true selves.
This show is a true ensemble piece, executed with sheer perfection. Each performer being great on their own, together they will move you to tears of sorrow and joy. Speaking of ensemble, this play is a special project of Theatre Unchained, co-written by Karina Cochran, Kaya Dorsch, J.E. Hibbard, and director Max McCreary. They initially set out create a series of distinct holiday scenes, but found they fit together in a single theme, focused on this relatable yet unique family.
As you can tell, this show is not a typical Holiday story. Still, it is moving, touching, endearing, and entirely affirming for all. This should be at the top of your list of shows to see this month, especially since there are only three performances left, this Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 8-10, hosted by Arts for Lawrence at Theater at the Fort, 8920 Otis Ave.
Good for teens and older, grab up those members of your family and come together for an uplifting story – maybe start an important dialogue to help make your own holiday complete. Get tickets at ArtsForLawrence.org.