Curtain Calls XTRA

Performance Network scores big time with Kim Carney comedy

It's a scene that takes place in thousands of households throughout the state once each football season: A sports-crazed family gathers together in front of their large screen television, chugs down beers, eats pizza and roots for their favorite team to win. However, the good-natured rivalry surrounding the Michigan State/University of Michigan game takes a decidedly shocking turn in the Gurley household this year – thanks to playwright Kim Carney who scores a major touchdown with her latest comedy, "The Home Team."
Now playing at Ann Arbor's Performance Network, "The Home Team" is a gutsy production that tackles serious issues, but does so through tears of laughter. In fact, this is an evening of theater that superbly accomplishes what the art form should always aspire to do: It entertains; it educates; and it does both extremely well!
At first look, the Gurley family is anything but. "Girly," that is.
Neva is a widowed mother who rides shotgun – literally – over a household of four rambunctious children. It's not the size of her family – so to speak – that makes the Gurley family unique; it's the fact that Neva's three sons and daughter are well into their 20s and 30s, yet they've never left home.
The play opens minutes before the Spartans take on the Wolverines, and preparations are underway for the annual family ritual. There's one difference, however: This year, middle son Wayne – long known for his philandering ways – is bringing yet another girlfriend home to meet the family.
What's worse: Eldest brother John is a former Spartan who once played in the Rose Bowl, and Erin is majoring in medicine at U of M and arrives at the party wearing a maize and blue sweater!
If nothing else, the girl's got guts!
She's also the center of a mystery: Youngest brother Duke recognizes Wayne's soon-to-be fiancŽ Рhe just can't remember from where!
Wayne's recollection returns, of course, and the jaw-dropping revelation at the close of the first act sets the stage for the type of soul-searching few football fans have ever had to face.
And it sets the family spinning, as even more Gurley secrets come tumbling out of their rather cramped closet.
Carney, a devilishly crafty playwright, succeeds in setting up the audience to assume a somewhat different direction to the story, and then delivers a powerful punch that stuns the audience. It's uproarious, it's touching – and most importantly – it delivers its message without pontificating.
Now THAT is comedy writing at its finest!
A great script does not necessarily translate into a spectacular production, of course. What's also needed are a director who understands the material – and how best to stage it – and an energetic cast that can believably bring these deceptively complicated characters to life.
The Performance Network rates an A+ on both counts!
Director Jim Posante has crafted a slickly executed production. It's a character study about a group of individuals who share one thing in common – their family bond – and how each of them works through the havoc an outsider brings into their closely knit unit.
It's poignant. It's fun. And what's more: It's very believable!
And that couldn't happen without the talents and skills of the six actors who are all at the top of their game in this production!
In fact, this is the ensemble to beat so far this theater season!
Mary Bremer, a longtime favorite of Detroit-area theatergoers, plays Neva with great gusto. As always, her performance is delightful!
Also enchanting are the lively trio of actors who play the three rough-and-tumble Gurley siblings: Joseph Albright (Johnny), Laurel Hufano (Marion) and Aral Basil Gribble II (Duke).
As Wayne and Erin, David Wolber and Emily Phenix explore the depths of their characters with great honesty.
Although a few might quibble that the resolution between Wayne and Erin comes too quickly, it certainly IS nice to see that sometimes love DOES conquer all!
"The Home Team" Presented Thursday through Sunday at Performance Network, 120 E. Huron, Ann Arbor, through Dec. 21. Tickets: $22.50 & $27.50. 734-663-0681.

The Bottom Line: This is a "must see" production – especially for the LGBT community!


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