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BWW Reviews: A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN NOVEMBER ON THE BANKS OF THE GREATEST OF THE GREAT LAKES Makes Theatre Into A Lively Spectator Sport

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Kate Benson's new play "A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes" takes place not on a lake, as the title might suggest, but rather in a gymnasium. The high-stakes Thanksgiving dinner at the center of the play unfolds at Wembley Stadium, where two announcers, # in charge of action and @ color commentary (yes, those are truly their names), quite literally call the shots into microphones from a booth above the stage. Directed by Lee Sunday Evans, this production relies on the ensemble to use heightened physicality and emotionality in order to bring this match to life. Fortunately, the actors who portray the Wembley family are fully committed to the challenge of making theatre into a literal game. In this production by New Georges in collaboration with Women's Project Theater, the unconventional "Beautiful Day" is brought to vibrant, zany life.

While "A Beautiful Day" mimics a professional sports match in form, the only pieces of equipment in this game are the actors, who must handle all the requisite items at the Thanksgiving dinner by miming. In lieu of an extensive set, the team members are guided by a series of overlapping markings on the set's gymnasium floor. This design calls on the actors to raise the stakes through intense physicality and fully commit to the heightened reality of the play. At the center of the Wembley family sporting shenanigans are three sisters: Cheesecake, Cherry Pie, and Trifle. As Cheesecake, Brooke Ishibashi is a highlight - her face possesses remarkable elasticity, allowing her to contort it into the most elaborate of expressions as directed by the two announcers (who are also humorously and enthusiastically played by Ben Williams and Hubert Point-DuJour, respectively). Mia Katigbak supplies a hearty helping of stern sass as grandmother Snapdragon, while Kristin Haruna Lee brings a more delicate, earnest tone as family black sheep Gumbo - she brings a lovely sense of contrition to her character, urging the audience to forgive her grievances. Jessica Almasy and Christina Felix also supply plenty of laughs as the "everymen" in the family, taking on a variety of roles that cross boundaries of gender and generation.

"A Beautiful Day" is unique because it pulls away from theatrical convention and also plays with the notion of the fourth wall. The audience's role as spectator is fully acknowledged here. Indeed, this Thanksgiving dinner is a true spectator sport. Ultimately, the nature of the play is more the game than the content. I was indeed caught up in the event but perhaps was less invested in the individual players - the characters add color to the play, but the originality of the setting matters more than the team members at this family dinner. And though "A Beautiful Day" makes for exciting entertainment as the seconds run down on the clock, the bizarre ending (not to be revealed here) felt at odds with the sporting match setting and pulled me in an entirely different, unclear direction. Still, "A Beautiful Day" makes for heightened theatrical fun - supplying plenty of laughs and a few surprises along the way.

"A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes" runs through February 7 at City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street. Tickets are $35-$45. 212-581-1212 or nycitycenter.org.

Photo Credit: Heather Phelps-Lipton


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