by Scott Clark
There’s a certain comfort in seeing a play or musical that you’re already familiar with – you generally know what to expect, because you know the plot already and can enjoy seeing a new group of performers put their stamp on the material. But there can sometimes be an even greater thrill at seeing a work that you’ve never even heard about before – both you and the cast/crew are breaking new ground.
Such was the case tonight when my wife and I had the opportunity to catch the final dress rehearsal of “Seasonal Allergies” – a comical family drama by Katherine DiSavino and Kevin Mead, being performed by members of the Beatrice Community Players. “Seasonal Allergies” is a charming little holiday tale, which explores the relationship dynamics between family members, long-time friends, and new acquaintances, as one of their number goes off-kilter while dealing with a personal trauma.
Julia and Thomas Shelby, and their young son Charlie (Laura Maurstad, Sterling Johnson and Laura’s son David as her stage son), with good friends J.D. and Alison Cusimano (Brandon Clark, Morgan Tunink), have gathered for a friends-and-family Thanksgiving, only to have Julia’s brother Pete Dumbowski (Trevor Kern) arrive at the Shelby home in a funk, having difficulty recovering from the end of his 5-year marriage. When Julia invites her brother to stay with them “for a few days” to buck up his spirits, he ends up turning the short respite into a long-term visit that drags on until Christmas and beyond – complete with his dirty laundry strewn about the entire house. Meanwhile, while the rest of the family indulges in Black Friday shopping, Pete’s attempt to bring holiday cheer into the house ends up backfiring – but it does bring the attractive (and very patient) neighbor Emily Cantwell (Stacey Troxel) into the lives of the other characters.
The cast truly brings their characters to life. I was particularly impressed by Tunink as the 8-months-pregnant lawyer Alison, Troxel as the bemused and tolerant Emily, and Kern as the neurotic and needy Pete. Maurstad as Charlie brought a smile and a laugh with most of his appearances on stage, though he was occasionally a little difficult to understand – but then again he’s only ten! Not only are there good individual performances, but the character relationships really shine in “Seasonal Allergies” – I really believed the sibling give-and-take of Julia and Pete, the sports-tv-fanaticism of Thomas and J.D., and Clark and Tunink as the expectant Cusimanos played off each other very well, even in little moments where they’re just exchanging glances and loving expressions in the background of scenes.
The set design for this show was tremendous – it’s a multi-level family home, incorporating a kitchen, dining area and living room in one large open space, plus multiple doors and a hallway to the rest of the house. It really felt like a true livable space! Kudos to the set designers. Similar congrats to the costume designers as well – In four scenes, spread across Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas and New Years, there are an incredible number of costume changes, and it was all handled smoothly. This, in fact, leads me to make note of my favorite part of the entire production – The opening of Act II features an incredible “fast forward” sequence with all of the characters moving rapidly through scenes meant to show the passage of time. The choreography, quick costume changes, and coordination to succeed with this extended sequence was absolutely incredible – congrats to director/designer Tyler Rinne and his capable cast and crew for pulling this off!
At its heart, “Seasonal Allergies” is light-hearted, but it is also emotional – as Pete comes to terms with his impending divorce, and all the other characters cope with Pete’s emotional meltdowns. Despite such “loaded” emotional content, the play is definitely a comedy, and the laughs – both big and small – kept coming with satisfying regularity. This is a heart-warming story filled with quirky and likeable characters. And I can’t recommend a better way to spend an evening or afternoon in this holiday season than in the company of this cast. Journey down to Beatrice for a fun production of “Seasonal Allergies”.
On a personal side note – I found it hilarious that a continuing plot thread dealt with Julia wanting to prepare a Thanksgiving dish of “pearl onions” as comfort food for her brother Pete – which nearly everyone else can’t stand! In my own family’s recent Thanksgiving dinner – ironically held in Beatrice! – my Mother had to apologize for not making her traditional “creamed pearl onions” dish – she couldn’t find any jars of pearl onions in stock in any Lincoln stores leading up to “turkey day” – they were all sold out!
If you go: The Community Players Theatre is located at 412 Ella Street in Beatrice, NE. “Seasonal Allergies” will be performed December 7th-9th and 14th-16th, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sunday’s at 2:00 PM. Get your tickets now on beatricecommunityplayers.com or by calling the box office at (402) 228-1801.
Scott Clark has worked in a variety of roles for the Lincoln City Libraries for nearly 40 years, where he regularly shares book, music and film reviews on their readers advisory website. He’s also reviewed books for the Lincoln Journal Star, and has shared his reviews of films and stage shows on his blog and Facebook feeds for many years. He’s a reader, writer, and sometimes actor, who loves to share his enthusiasms, in an effort to connect people with things they just might fall in love with!