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A CurtainUp Review
A Beautiful Day In November On The Banks Of The Greatest Of The Great Lakes

"I wanted to write a play without stage directions, and I wanted to write a play about a family, and I wanted to turn the standard models of the American Family Play inside out: no couch--no furniture!, no props, no deep dark family secrets, no sitting down. Just: the trouble of doing something together, and doing that thing well, or as well as you can."
— Kate Benson explaining her intentions to Caroline V. McGraw when A Beautiful Day In November. . . previewed at New Georges' Jam on Toast last year.
 Beautiful Day. . .
Gerry Bamman, Mia Katigbak, Nina Hellman, Brooke Ishibash i, Heather Alicia Simms, Jessica Almasy, Christian Felix (photo: Heather Phelps-Lipton)
Ms. Benson has indeed made good on her intent. Instead of a family drama about one of the most beloved American family traditions, the Thanksgiving Dinner. The Wembly family dinner around which A Beautiful Day In November. . . revolves is prepared without stove or dining table but plays out on a stage with a floor that makes it all feel like a basketball court. That bare bones gymnasium setting is borne out by two actors perched in a broadcasters' booth above the stage. The actor/sports announcers perched in that booth call out what's happening throughout.

I was willing to buy into this experimental approach, especially since the cast included excellent pros like Gerry Bamman, Nina Hellman and Mia Katigbak. I squashed the little warning flag about the quirky names given to the various Wembly family members (Cheesecake, Cherry Pie, Trifle-- really!!). But while it's a clever conceit, I'm sorry to report that vive la difference turns out to be different but far from better. Ms. Benson's deserves praise for her ffort to experiment with a departure of the tried and true family play which invariably has at least one big scene around a dining room table. But the potentially funny metaphorical sports framework fail to keep even the short 80 minutes seem long.

In Thornton Wilder's iconic Our Town, meals that are prepared without props are part of what happens in Grover's Corners, but not all. Here, however, the stylized choreography dominates and ultimately makes for characters who are cartoons rather than real people. The abstract movements quickly become tiresome and no amount of verbal to do over the giblet gravy can make this a really tasty theatrical meal.

Rather than echo the pretentiously unwieldy length of the title I'll heed one of Ms. Benson's stage directions about pacing. The director and actors are urged to make things move "basketball fast "because "we're all going to die soon and there is no time to waste." And so, rather than waste any more time quibbling, I''ll sign off with the hope that Women's Project Theater will get back to the excellence that has marked so many of its past works.

A Beautiful Day in November On The Banks Of The Greatest Of The Great Lakes
Playwright: Kate Benson
Director: Lee Sunday Evans
City Center Stage 2
New Georges in association with Women's Project Theater.
Cast: Jessica Almasy, Gerry Bamman, Christian Felix, Nina Hellman, Brooke Ishibashi, Mia Katigbak, Kristine Haruna Lee, Hubert Point-Du Jour, Heather Alicia Simms,Ben Williams
Set Design by Sara C. Walsh
Lighting Design by Barbara Samuels
Sound Design by Brandon Wolcott
Stage Manager: Jamie Van Dyke
Women's Project Theater and New Georges at New York City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street
From 1/12/15; opening 1/15/15; closing 2/07/15
7:30pm Tuesday-Friday, 2:30pm & 7:30pm Saturday, 2:30pm Sunday
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 1/13/15 press preview
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