BWW Review: Fantastic.Z's Short Play Series FAMILY Modern and Sweet
Keeping it brief, since the show only runs through this Saturday, LGBTQ theater group Fantastic.Z has a series of short plays currently performing at The Eclectic Theater called "Family". The six-play series has a family motif, each story showcasing modern examples of what it means to be a unit in the modern era. In a more deductive sense, this new works micro-festival highlights specifically pain within the family unit. Half of the shows work through that pain less successfully with staged therapy (moping, finger-pointing, and yelling), and the other half of the show work through that pain more successfully with comedy.
Collectively, "Family" shares stories about queer families: a montage of picnics with his two moms in "Ten Picnics"; a gay couple who anxiously await their first Christmas morning with their newly adopted children in "Christmas Morning"; a 16-year-old trans boy who has just given birth to a child on the day of Trump's inauguration in "Tomorrow Comes"; a confused, old-fashioned mom trying to grapple with her lesbian daughter's pregnancy with her wife in "A Mother's Privilege"; a new mother having a conversation with the 25-year-old version of the child she just birthed (who is gay) in "Umbilical Dialogue"; and three high-society penguins get a rude awakening when it's Noah's Arc, and not a luxury cruise, they'll be embarking on, and their threesome needs to become a twosome in "Ark Types."
Some were a bit more contrived than others, which each show proving to be funnier, more unusual, and more upbeat than the last. "Christmas Morning" by Thomas J. Misuraca is the highlight of the bunch, perfectly capturing a moment in time that feels real while also feeling topical and meaty. A lot has to do with Bill (Robert Lovett) and Lenny (Jon Corton) having fabulous chemistry. Lenny trying to calm flustered Bill only for Bill to become more flustered, all while Bill paces in a Santa hat and worries about if the gifts he got his children are masculine enough is comedy gold! The writing in this show is exceptional; it holds its own as a short play, and is self-contained, but leaves the audience wanting more.
Similarly, though "Ten Picnics" was more of a montage than a snippet in time, it had the right balance of humor, truth, and tenderness. In the first picnic, Frankie (Drew Combs) is a baby, watched over adoringly by his two mothers (Jessica Severance and Jana Gueck). In the tenth picnic, is an adult, and watches a child of his own. What happens in between is a sentimental, "Boyhood-esque" timeline of one person's entire life condensed into moments. The juiciest moments are when the actors really lean in to how funny being a teenager, or being a person in your twenties, can be from an outsider's perspective (but feels very serious or devastating in the moment).
"Umbilical Dialogue" by Tony Foster has a surreal, murky timeline where the child (Jon Corton) the mother (Jana Gueck) just gave birth to is simultaneously a newborn and a 25-year-old. It's a cool concept, but it does not have a clear message. The child puts the mother on blast for being a judgmental mom, pointing out all of the things she cannot understand now and the mom cannot believe that she becomes the woman her son describes. This idea needs to boil down the narrative so that the content is not so general. When the son gets upset at the mother for giving him an outtie, that kind of specificity works.
"Tomorrow Comes" introduces a story rarely, if ever, told, of a trans man (Eva Estrada Campos) giving birth. 16-year-old Thomas has just had a baby, and is being visited in the hospital by Edgar (Robert Lovett) and Jack (Drew Combs), the parents adopting Thomas' child. This sweet gay couple, Edgar and Jack, are more of a family to Thomas than his biological parents, who are conspicuously absent from the hospital. The three of them reassure each other while Trump's election blares menacingly in the background. Thomas' story is the freshest of the "Family" series, and ends on an optimistic note.
"A Mother's Privilege," by Donna Hoke has a modern story of two women (Jessica Severance and Eva Estrada Campos) who are getting pregnant and a traditional mother (ReBecca Parker O'Neil) who doesn't understand how that works. The conversation they have is pretty predictable, and the 180 the mom pulls at the end does not really feel earned. The cast does their best with the script, and generates some convincing tension and chemistry, and there are some fabulous dorky dad moments in this one (dorky dad played by Steven Myers).
The final performance is just downright silly. And it's wonderful. Andrew Black's "Ark Types" stars pompous penguins Otto (Jon Corton), Leo (Steven Myers), and Gilda (ReBecca Parker O'Niel). They foolishly thought Noah's Arc was a luxury cruise, and they have to figure out a) if it's worth going, and b) what to do, given that there's three of them, with the two of each animal requirement. These upper-crust, snobbish penguins are very fun to watch problem-solve, particularly when the problems they have are so petty given the pretense of inevitable demise (not bringing enough hair product with them, for example).
So much for brevity. Collectively, it's a sweet show. The ensemble is a comedic force to be reckoned with. For a lot of fresh comedy and a little drama that was a smidge too basic, I give Fantastic Z's "Family" series a charmed 3/5 stars. Hopefully it's still performing and you don't have to wait until the reunion to see it.
"Family" performs at the Eclectic Theater through June 17th, 2017. For tickets and information, visit them online at www.fantasticz.org.