Valerie is a self-absorbed, self-pitying plain Jane. She typically spends ten minutes verbally dissecting the imagery on billboards about Jamaican vacations for the benefit of anyone unlucky enough to be standing near her. She not only espouses beliefs about environmentalism, but also goes so far as to rent the family a bungalow equipped with composting toilets for the production of "humanure."
Half of the character's dialogue is actually monologue, with a bunch of other people standing around, forced to listen! In almost any other story, the truly hurtful jabs her family takes at her (her brother, for example, says he suspects her fiancee must be bleeding from the head to have decided to marry her) would be too extreme to believe, but in the context Demos-Brown has created, we're forced to guiltily agree.
Valerie's brothers, Luke (Nicholas Richberg) and Matthew (Todd Allen Durkin), are something of an odd couple: Luke is the Ivy-league intellectual, and Matthew is the I'm-too-fat-and-tired-for-this-bullshit family guy. Richberg's performance as the uptight academic seemed forced at the outset of the play, but blossomed by the end of the first act.
Durkin, on the other hand, exhibited comedic brilliance. His imposing beer belly bumbled back and forth across the stage, and his floppy appendages followed, giving him the look of a guy rendered permanently doltish as a result of consuming too many Coors Lights in the direct Florida sunlight. A combination of really funny writing and really well-timed delivery made this Belushi-esque actor (more Jim than John) the unofficial star of the show.
Then again, mother Emily (Barbara Bradshaw) was pretty stellar too. A total headtrip of a performance, she managed to convey a confused, yet nurturing matriarch, made more interesting by the occasional slip of a cyanide tongue. We would go so far as to say that Bradshaw's performance reminded us of Meryl Streep at times.
Father Thomas (Bill Schwartz), no longer married to Emily, brought his new wife, who is also his children's ex-high school classmate, to the family gathering. A self-centered alcoholic in embarrassing high-waisted jeans, Thomas seems desperate to prove that he's not ridiculous, even as he fills his rocks glass with another four fingers of vodka and puts his arms around his exotic, comparatively infantile spouse's freshly purchased tits. Schwartz is inherently funny as an actor, and his used car salesman delivery and mannerisms invited lots of laughter throughout the show.
We were not as thrilled with actress Amy Ione Alvarado, who played Thomas' wife Theresa. We'd have to say that her performance was just lukewarm. Plus, the stage was extremely wide, and when she ventured to the stage opposite us, we lost most of her lines, either because she wasn't projecting, or because she was facing the back of the stage.
The minor glitch, however, was absolutely nothing compared to the heady comic relief this brand new play provided. The playwright's dark and intelligent sense of humor, coupled with some standout cast members, make this show about longing and belonging a stage gem suitable for anyone who likes to laugh out loud, while crying a little inside.