As exciting as a world premiere of a new play is, it’s even more exciting to see the first full staging of a piece written by a local. It’s one way of checking our pulse as a community — what are we writing about and how? Sometimes it feels like Louisville writes mostly zombie comedies and pop culture parodies, but in a truly subversive move, local playwright Nancy Gall-Clayton dares to experiment with staging a traditional family comedy.
“The Snowflake Theory” made its debut Thursday at The Bard’s Town Theatre (where producing Kentucky playwrights is a core part of the mission) and not even one zombie shambled onto the set, much less to a rock and roll score. Instead we meet the family Klein, Jews from an unnamed Mid-Southern town who work out their differences around a well-worn dining room table.
Marge (the excellent Carol Tyree Williams), a widow who married young, has decided it’s past time she live life on her own terms. At the top of the show, she’s throwing out her kosher dishes in favor of hot pink plates when 40-year-old single daughter Rebecca (Susan Crocker) reveals she’s been artificially inseminated. Then her immature thirty-something son Clark (Scott Goodman) brings home Violet (Laura Ellis*, who brings most of the big laughs), his sweetly dippy fiancée with Technicolor hair, and a plan to enlist in the military.
Suddenly, progress doesn’t sound so great to Marge, who enlists the help of an inexperienced but gung-ho rabbi (the always reliable Ted Lesley) to help her deal with these sudden changes through Scrabble and Jell-o and a rekindled enthusiasm for family Sabbath dinners.
Gall-Clayton’s writing is witty and warm, and her characters are never humiliated (much) or even left awkwardly twisting in the wind. It’s reminiscent of Neil Simon’s sweeter moments, and if its gentle approach to comedy feels a bit dated (like Marge herself says does), it’s at least a self-conscious approach — jokes about screen savers and “the computer” place this story squarely in generation gap territory. Surely, many local families will see themselves in the Kleins. The funniest thing about the family is how weird they seem to believe they are, when really, they’re so sweet and functional a different kind of Southern playwright would have to say “bless their hearts.”
At times, the family’s penchant for making jokes to diffuse conflict is a bit too realistic. Dramatically, it would have been more satisfying to see some of these conflicts come to a head. Big moments, like Rebecca revealing that she doesn’t want Marge at the baby’s delivery, aren’t really allowed to explode, nor is Clark’s pathological reluctance to reveal his true self to his mother and sister.
Ultimately, everyone tries their best to get along and comes over for dinner, and if nothing more is at stake than fixing up Rebecca with an eligible Jewish bachelor or teaching Violet the basics of Jewish life, well, so be it. That’s life for many families—you get through the ups and downs with a few jokes and a lot of food, no zombie siege emergency plan needed.
“The Snowflake Theory,” which runs through May 20, kicks off the theater’s 2012 season. The next production is The Bard’s Town executive director Doug Schutte’s “Misses Strata,” an update of Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata,” which opens in June.
*Laura Ellis is an employee of WFPL.