Arts & Leisure

A very lively “Nice Family Gathering”

“A NICE FAMILY GATHERING” closes on Sunday at the Westminster Community Playhouse (WCP photo).

By Thom deMartino

Carl (Eduardo Mora) is stressed out. He’s back home for the family Thanksgiving, but totally unprepared for it: dreading his brother mocking him about his truck driving to make ends meet, or the condescension about his aspiring writing career; to dealing with his mother, who may be slipping into Alzheimers … And he’s particularly not ready for his dad to show up unexpectedly.

“I don’t know why you’re so snippy,” quips his father (Michael Corcoran) wryly to his aghast son.  “I’m the one who’s dead.”

Just in time for the holidays, it’s the final weekend for Westminister Community Playhouse’s “A Nice Family Gathering”, directed by John Francis. Carl has arrived before the rest of the family to his mother’s house, and is floored by the appearance of his father, who passed away only 10 months before. His dad explains he has unfinished business: which, if left undone, will send him off to Purgatory.

It seems the family patriarch was never the type in life to express his emotions — something Carl himself remarked about in one of his columns, ironically titled “The Man Who Loved His Wife So Much — He Almost Told Her”. Therein is the crux of the deceased man’s problem: he needs to tell his wife how much he loved her, and needs Carl — who always felt his father disapproved of him — to speak for him.

But it may be more of a challenge to get through to Mom (played gleefully by Sarah Hoeven) as the elder woman’s faculties may be faltering: her memory becoming increasingly spotty (including confusing Easter and Thanksgiving, or serving up mugs of hot water instead of coffee); and out of nowhere spouting off non-sequiturs, such as “I — LIKE — JUMBO — SHRIMP!”

Meanwhile, life is challenging for the rest of the family as well. Carl’s well-to-do brother Michael (Eric Schiffer), is secretly drowning in debt, and his wife Jill (Laura Lejuwaan) is on an emotional rollercoaster, due to the fertility drugs she’s taking, as the couple struggles to conceive. And their sister Stacy (Emily Turner), the youngest, seems to be almost a non-person to the rest of the family, as she’s left out of conversations and is virtually unacknowledged.

As the family tries to come together in the wake of loss, is there enough time for their father to pass along his love, both for his wife, and his children? Or is there still more to be said, before it’s too late?

“A Nice Family Gathering” lives up to its name — family-friendly, with great performances and character development. The audience experiences the inner workings of the family, the responsibilities each member feels falls to them, the individual ways they grieve for their father and the emotional weight they each have been laboring under.

Carl’s feelings of inadequacy, of his father’s disapproved of him for not getting into the family business of the medical profession like his brother, and trivializing of his dreams of being a writer; while Michael has felt smothered by the pressure of all of their father’s expectations on him, as well as his and Jill’s pains at not being able to produce a grandchild that his Mom so desperately longs for; and Stacy’s frustration at being constantly passed over and ignored, when she may secretly be the most stable member of the family.

Rounding out the cast is Bill Carson as Dad’s old golfing buddy Jerry, a jocular fellow getting a little too close to Mom for the family’s (and Dad’s) comfort, and Kip Hogan — in what is almost a cameo — as neighbor Mrs. Enquist, who’s sole purpose seems to be making Carl uncomfortable about how he’s changed with age. (“Oh, look at your head — it’s huge!” she insists.)

Sarah Hoeven’s portrayal of Mom is energetic and nuanced, between her manic moments and wistfulness about the past — at least, what she remembers of it; and Michael Corcoran’s embodiment of Dad is well-rounded in his own way…perhaps pushy and needling of his son, but beneath the audience can sense his genuine, if unspoken, love for his boy. Eduardo Mora’s performance of Carl is both layered and organic, with viewers seeing through his eyes the conflict he has over the past he’s shared with his father and family, the  realization that his perspective might not have shown the whole story of the love in the household he grew up in, all the while questioning his own sanity at listening to his father’s specter.

As families prepare for an impending Thanksgiving, there’s still time to catch “A Nice Family Gathering”: with reflections perhaps of some of our own relations, and a reminder to appreciate the ones we love, and that it’s never too late to share that love with them.

“A Nice Family Gathering.” Eduardo Mora, Sarah Hoeven and Michael Corcoran star in this timely Thanksgiving tale about second chances, and appreciating our loved ones that much more. Now playing through Nov. 24 at the Westminister Community Playhouse, 7272 Maple St, Westminster, CA 92683. Ticketing information available online at, or call 714-893-8626.


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