“We often choose a play that revolves around a family for our last show of the summer season,” said director Donnie Bowes. “I read the script for A Nice Family Gathering some time ago, loved it, and decided this would be the right year to perform it. I knew I was going to need a blue chip cast for this one.”
Director Bowes has assembled that blue chip cast for the final production of the regular theatre season at Upper Canada Playhouse. A Nice Family Gathering opens on September 6 and runs until September 30. His actors are in final rehearsals on the striking, split set designed by John Thompson, built and lighted by Sean Free.
“I like to do something a little different as we go into fall,” Bowes explained at a recent press conference. “This play is more in the tradition of Over the River and Through the Woods, On Golden Pond and Having Hope At Home. It’s not a door slamming farce, but rather a play that revolves around a particular family, and their conflicts, when they come home to celebrate Thanksgiving. It is really full of laughter.”
The play, by Phil Olson, deals with the (understandable) chaos that erupts when often squabbling siblings get together for a “nice” holiday dinner, then discover that the late family patriarch has also chosen to ‘appear’ at the gathering, but only to one of his sons, and to no one else.
Doug Tangney, as ‘Dad,’ the ghost, says that his character, who hasn’t quite ‘moved on’, gets “caught up again in the family web. He still has some issues, and since he’s the man he was before, with all the same passions he had in life, a certain havoc follows him. I think of him as the match thrown into a box of fire works.”
The on stage ghost presents some interesting challenges for Tangney and for his fellow players.
“I have to have movements that are not distracting,” Tangney said. “I am more of a feeling in the room than a physical presence.”
Richard Bauer, who plays son Carl, laughs that it can be “interesting to be talking to a real person, and then hearing and responding to a ghost at the same time. When you try to cover it up, everyone naturally thinks you’re mad. But that leads to a lot of comedy.”
“Early on in the game, we decided that our ghost had to be treated as a real person,” director Bowes said. “It was interesting and a lot of fun to insert him into the action yet the characters can’t see him.”
“You can’t see him, and you can’t anticipate him,” Jamie Williams added.
Williams, fresh from his run in On the Flight Path, plays Michael, the eldest Lundeen son. “He’s the favourite son,” Williams laughed, “because he became a doctor to fulfill his parents’ expectations, but his success has come at a certain cost.”
His wife, Jill, is not helping his peace of mind. Kate Gordon jokes that her character is “the perfect, lovely wife who can do no wrong. Actually, she really, really wants a baby, and she gets highly emotional at times.”
As the youngest Lundeen sibling, Stacey, played by Liz Gilroy, is very much a loner. She has also come to the family gathering with at least two major bombshells to drop on her family. “Stacey is smart, but really a little wierd,” Gilroy explained. “What’s more, although she can’t see him, she senses Dad a bit, can sometimes even almost hear him. That adds to the confusion.”
Linda Goranson, (who commuted to rehearsals at UCP while still starring in Calendar Girls in Belleville), is Helen, the mom. “I just want my whole family to come together for the ideal (and what turns out to be largely mythical) Thanksgiving dinner. It’s fun, but challenging for me to have Dad on stage as a ghost. You have to really concentrate not to see him or his activities.”
Rounding out the cast is Don Ciaschini, as Jerry. Jerry is not a member of the Lundeen family; he’s been invited to the gathering by Helen. “Now this definitely causes a few problems,” Ciaschini laughs. “The Lundeen boys certainly ‘misconstrue’ what I’m doing at their mother’s table.”
“This is a wonderful play,” said Donnie Bowes. “The humour is built into the reality of families and their issues. It’s a great show.”
Tickets for A Nice Family Gathering are available at Upper Canada Playhouse. Call 613-543-3713, or go on line at www.uppercanadaplayhouse.com.