A Nice Family Christmas Review - The Further Adventures of a Slightly Eccentric Clan

Truth is stranger than fiction; and author Phil Olson proves it in A NICE FAMILY CHRISTMAS. Drawn from experiences with his own Minnesota family (or sometimes families he knew), playwright Phil Olson wrote A NICE FAMILY CHRISTMAS as a sequel to his earlier Thanksgiving-themed “A Nice Family Gathering,” originally produced in 2000 and seen in over 30 states from coast to coast. Same screwy family with a whole new set of problems. They’re all a few years older – but not very much wiser.

Greg D. Barnett and Marcia Rodd - Photo by Doug Engalla

This Norwegian-American Minneapolis family is headed by matriarch Grandma (Marcia Rodd) just up from Florida - “God’s waiting room” - to celebrate Christmas in the snow with her daughter and grandkids. A zany and outspoken senior, Grandma doesn’t let anything slip by her. And then there’s Mom (Belinda Howell) who’s trying desperately to keep a smile on her face and a lid on her volatile brood. Also at the celebration are her physician son Michael (Patrick Burke), whose wife just left him; her writer son Carl (Greg D. Barnett) on the verge of being fired and trying to pen a piece about a traditional Christmas with his non-traditional family; and her gay daughter Stacey (Truett jean Butler) who’s getting ready to tie the knot. Almost causing Grandma to have a heart attack because her bride isn’t Lutheran. To add a little spice to the egg nog, Uncle Bob (Fox Carney), unexpectedly shows up, schnapps bottle in hand and double entendre at the ready. Soon followed by Jill (Rebekah Dunn), Michael’s estranged wife. The gang’s all here.

Patrick Burke and Rebekah Dunn - Photo by Doug Engalla

The family is quietly reserved in true Scandinavian fashion, with a “hug” really mutual light arm taps and a kiss seen as way too friendly. And the word “love” not even whispered in a weak moment. This is clearly a family with some cultural communication issues.

Marcia Rodd, Belinda Howell, Fox Carney, and Greg D. Barnett - Photo by Doug Engalla

Writer Phil Olson and director Doug Engalla have re-worked this piece until it shines. Olson spent over a year doing readings and re-writes. In fact, after the show, Olson admitted that he added some lines just before curtain time to improve the final product. A NICE FAMILY CHRISTMAS reflects a workaholic’s guide to a polished and successful script.  Olson’s is a funny and frenetic family whose adventures just keep getting better and better.

Greg D. Barnett, Patrick Burke, Marcia Rodd, Belinda Howell, and Fox Carney - Photo by Doug Engalla

Chris Winfield’s set does an excellent job of putting the audience smack in the middle of Mom’s condominium in a suburb of Minneapolis. The entire production crew does a masterful job of moving the comedy along effortlessly.

Marcia Rodd and Truett jean Butler - Photo by Doug Engalla

A NICE FAMILY CHRISTMAS is blessed with a talented author, a skilled director, and an enthusiastic cast who make this Christmas come alive. There’s no better way to celebrate the holiday season than by being a Peeping Tom on Christmas Eve at a certain condo in Minnesota. For a laugh a minute and a very entertaining evening, stop by the Olsons and wish them a Merry Christmas.

A NICE FAMILY CHRISTMAS runs through December 18, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. There is a special holiday matinee at 2 p.m. on Friday, 11/25/16. The Lonny Chapman Theatre is located at 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. Tickets are $25 (students/seniors $20, groups of 10+ $15). For information and reservations, call 818-763-5990 or go online.

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