WORLD PREMIERE! Survived by her
husband and four children. In lieu of flowers, send cash. Her
funeral is beginning... but the dead body in the casket isn't half as
macabre as the sour-faced surviving family sitting before it. Now that
their angel of a mother has died, the Thompson family can finally fall
apart. But before her terrifying husband and embittered grown children
can ditch each other forever, they must face each other... and face how
each of them hurt that poor woman. What - or who - is really to blame
for Mom's death? "...a sprawling family drama, both funny and heartfelt."
"Los Angeles playwright and political journalist Nathan Wellman definitely channeled his inner-Miller when writing this smart and funny family drama... I highly recommend MOM'S DEAD..." -Broadway World
Mark Costello as Arthur
Richard McDonald as Dave
Cameron Kasal as Gary
Taylor Marr as John
Halle Drew Charlton as Laura
Eric Giancoli as Mike
Marsha Warner as Voice of Barbara
Billy Aldridge as Voice of Young Gary
Madeline Fair as Alice
Joshua Benton as Dave
Bo Powell as Gary
Bryan Bellomo as John
Phoebe Kuhlman as Laura
Anthony Backman as Mike
Produced for Sacred Fools by - David Mayes
Associate Producer - Carrie Keranen
Assistant Director - Bo Powell
Stage Manager - Angel Hernandez
Set Designer - Sandy von Guttenstein
Sound Designer - Ben Rock
Lighting Designer - Ashley McCormick
Costume Designer - Jennifer Christina DeRosa
Prop Designer - Ashley Crow
Fight Coordinator - Mike Mahaffey
Assistant Stage Manager - Katherine Eiler
Casting Coordinator - Tegan Ashton Cohan
Poster Art - Gabe Leonard
- Sacred Fools Company Member
Los Angeles Playwright Nathan Wellman Channels Arthur Miller in his World Premiere of MOM'S DEAD at Sacred Fools Theater Company
William Shakespeare once gave the often-quoted advice, "To thine own self be true/ And it must follow, as the night the day/ Thou canst not then be false to any man." There is a reason this quote from Hamlet still permeates society's consciousness 400 years later; it's great advice.
The root cause of all depression and unhappiness is falsity. As humans we feel sad when there is a disconnect between what is happening in our lives and what we think should be happening in our lives, or when we compare our current condition to the nostalgic, and often convenient, memories of yesterday. It was a topic Arthur Miller famously explored in DEATH OF A SALESMAN, where the American Dream was presented as the ultimate falsity, an unattainable goal that ruined the lives of the families that failed to achieve it. MOM'S DEAD explores these same themes.
The play premiered Friday night at Sacred Fools Theater Company's Black Box Theater at the company's new home on Santa Monica Boulevard - Hollywood Theatre Row. Los Angeles playwright and political journalist Nathan Wellman definitely channeled his inner-Miller when writing this smart and funny family drama.
Scene one opens with the dysfunctional Thompson family attending Mom's funeral. The family members in attendance include: her husband and murderer, Arthur (played by Mark Costello); her pill-popping youngest daughter, Laura (played by Halle Charlton); her jobless/loser 2nd youngest son, John (played by Taylor Marr); her domineering and pants-wearing eldest daughter, Alice (played by Jessica Sherman); Alice's wimpy husband, Dave (played by Richard McDonald); and Alice and Dave's stoner adolescent child, Gary (played by Cameron Kasal). Notably absent from the funeral is her eldest child, Mike (played by Eric Giancoli), a three-piece suit wearing "Vice President of Marketing", and the only family member who appears to have made anything of himself. His absence from the funeral is quickly dismissed by his father, "He's a good boy. Probably just caught up."
It's in this funeral scene that he audience learns just how dysfunctional the Thompsons are. The family can't even mourn the death of Mom, who we learn was the selfless matriarch whose loving, caring, and sometimes annoying disposition acted as the glue that held the family together, without interrupting her funeral with petty fighting.
The play follows the family over three years, and a lot happens: Insults, fistfights, and even murder. What keeps this family together when they clearly hate each other so much? We learn that there's a force even more powerful than hatred; it's the idea of what "family" should be, and the memories families have of better times. That metaphorical glue is what holds the Thompson family together, and it proves a very strong, yet toxic adhesive.
Like in DEATH OF A SALESMAN, the scent of depression infiltrates every scene. Characters are most happy when they are reminiscing about the past. They all feel disconnected between their present situation and the situation they feel they should be in. There is an unattainable idea of what their "family" should be, and the reality of who their family really is. Yet, despite the dysfunction, the family bonds are strong. Even after they catch family members in the act of murdering one another, they keep their lips sealed to the authorities. "You can scream at family, you can abandon family, you can even destroy your family. But you never tell on family." That's the family motto, and they take it to their graves with them.
Sacred Fools' could not have put together a better 99-seat Equity cast. Cameron Kasal, who played the supporting role of Gary, a stoner high school student, was a standout. Kasal's comedic timing was superb, and he brought a very truthful and empathetic interpretation of his character with him.
Eric Giancoli was another standout of the night. His interpretation of Mike is reminiscent of Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman in AMERICAN PSYCHO. On the surface Mike seems successful, confident, powerful, and poised; he's the personification of the American Dream. He's the guy every man strives to be, and the person his father wishes the rest of his children were more like. But just after a few scenes the unstable psycho under the power suit is revealed. Giancoli does an excellent job truthfully playing this Jekyll and Hyde role.
Mark Costello plays an excellent grumpy old man. Sure, his character, Arthur, swears a lot and yells misogynistic things like, "My goddamn toes are out dancing in the wind like a stripper's tits!" but you still emphasize with him. Every family's got someone like that, and Costello manages to be that person and make him loveable.
Jessica Sherman does a phenomenal job playing a catty and suffocated housewife. While her character puts up a tough front, Sherman plays Alice with a vulnerability that is equal to her vindictiveness, which winds up making her somebody you really want to root for.
Richard McDonald plays the role of Alice's whipped husband, Dave. His character is the only non-blood relative in the story, and it's worth nothing the way the Thompson family's actions transform him from Alice's flogged husband to the empowered, yet distrusting man he becomes at the end of the story. McDonald impressively plays a comedic outsider who can see the family through an entirely different lens than the rest of the characters.
Lastly, Halle Charlton and Taylor Marr masterfully portrayed Laura and John, the two youngest children. It's unclear exactly when Laura and John lost their innocence, but they are definitely damaged. Both actors did an outstanding job.
The entire production, directed by Alicia Conway Rock, was packaged together brilliantly. Rock, the actors, and the designers all made use of Sacred Fools' small and flexible black box space to the best of their abilities. The set design, by Sandy von Guttenstein, took a "less is more" approach, which was appropriate for the themes in the script. Acting blocks, a table, and a Christmas tree were the primary set pieces, in addition to a large wooden rectangle hanging from the ceiling upstage. It's not clear what that rectangle was supposed to be (I'm guessing either a TV set or picture frame), but aesthetically it was cool and worked well.
I highly recommend MOM'S DEAD to anybody who enjoys Arthur Miller's DEATH OF A SALESMAN. I'd also recommend it to anyone who has experienced disconnect between how their family is and how they think their family should be, so in other words: I recommend this to just about anyone. Wellman's story offers a smart insight into why so many people aren't satisfied with their lives, and it's also just really funny and enjoyable.
© 2016 Broadway World
Mom’s a Corpse. Dad Looks Mad. At Least the Light Is Nice.
The painter Gabe Leonard loves big hands. Fists bigger than heads and fingers longer than legs factor prominently in his cinematic depictions of outlaws, mobsters and card sharks. So it makes sense that a giant fist — gripping a pitchfork and a cigarette — is front and center in an oil painting that became a poster for a production of Nathan Wellman’s play “Mom’s Dead.”
“I like hands,” said Mr. Leonard, who lives and works in Los Angeles. "I think they’re a big part of a person’s personality. It just seems to work, especially with male characters.”
A production of the Los Angeles theater company Sacred Fools, “Mom’s Dead” is a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family grappling with the death of its matriarch. As the play unfolds, it turns out someone may or may not have been pushed down the stairs. Not everyone who appears at the start of the play is there by the end.
“Anybody can relate to it, because everybody has secrets in their family,” said Mr. Leonard.
So who is Mr. Big Fist and why does he look so grumpy? Mr. Leonard recently talked about his inspirations. Following are edited excerpts.
You paint in a figurative style that matches the straightforward title of the play.
I don’t think about it as a style. I just paint. I tone the canvas with a raw earth-tone coat, and make shapes, then work my way down and lay out the shapes and composition. Once I have those established, I refine them.
The guy in the painting, how he’s holding a pitchfork, looks like an angry version of the man in Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.”
The main idea of the art was a parody of “American Gothic.” Instead of having the woman, I showed that she’s missing. You recognize she’s not there. The question is, why is she not there?
Who was your inspiration for the male figure?
That’s the father. He’s the actor in the show. I had him act as his character, so he sat there with a rumpled look, in a disheveled shirt. He’s a smoker, so I added that after he posed. I had him hold on to a broom handle, and make it look like he was standing outside. I use actors as models in my work. They’re great, because they know how to act and not be self-conscious.
Light plays a big role in the painting. It could be morning or evening. The way you render it makes it mysterious.
I took some snapshots of houses in my neighborhood, and yellow seemed to be a good color over all. It was a tricky yellow to paint, because it had to fall in the background. There are muted grayish yellow tones in there. The setting is a kind of winter scene, with the barren trees. Instead of a drab and cold background, that yellowish house tends to warm it up a bit.
What artists inspire your own work?
John Singer Sargent, Klimt, N. C. Wyeth, a lot of the early American illustrators.
If someone sees the poster on the street, what do you hope their takeaway is?
I hope they would wonder why Mom’s dead. Maybe they wonder, did he stab her? He’s not happy. But why is he not happy? I want them to have questions, so they go to the theater to get answers.
© 2016 The New York Times