Stray Cat Theatre has now taken up Winkler's gauntlet and assumed the challenge of producing this madcap excursion into family absurdity and dysfunction. Director Louis Farber has given his cast the necessary latitude to perform their antics with manic abandon. The result is a kind of controlled chaos imbued with moments of farce and sensitivity, clever allusions to literature, and homages to gender solidarity.
Erin Kong, a collegian who deservedly has graduated from stints with ASU Lyric Opera to SCT's main stage, delivers a killer performance as daughter Mary, whose moments of meditation take her to birdland. From the moment the play opens, with her body heaving and undulating in some sublime communion with seagulls, Kong is the show's queen of comedy. Then, there are the conflicted exchanges with her widowed and self-indulgent mother Blythe (Dolores Mendoza) that are hilarious. There's caws enough (literally!) for belly laughs.
Over-the-top performances are not limited to Kong and Mendoza. Vinny Chavez and Kane Black rack up their share of laughs as stepsons, different as day from night, Christopher the film star and Joshua the multi-MFA flop with a knack for contorted nouns.
It is in the fifth role of this play that its essential message is delivered. Christopher has brought his assistant, Charlotte (Samantha Hanna) to the gathering only to have Joshua fall for her. The boy/girl give and take may be funny enough. What is more dramatic is Charlotte's evolving awareness of the need to break away from the conventions of madness represented by the Donnelly's. In a way, freedom, for her and our culture, is just another word for nothing left to lose and lots to gain through diversity.
So, kudos to Ron May and Stray Cat Theatre for introducing a play that is far more than a comedy and that deserves extended reflection on its social message.