Before reality TV ruled the primetime airwaves, game shows were all the rage. It seemed that everyone you talked to wanted to compete on The Price is Right, Family Feud, Wheel of Fortune, or Jeopardy. Game show culture is still alive and well in American society, with people wanting to be on Minute to Win It and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader, but most people long to be a character on The Bachelor, Big Brother, or Survivor.
Yet, the world premiere of Abby Koenig's YOUR FAMILY SUCKS being produced by Horse Head Theatre Company is taking us back to the hey-day of Game Show Culture and using it to explore the functionally dysfunctional modern American family. With a wit and schema for creating characters that is reminiscent of Pulitzer Prize Winning writer David Lindsay-Abaire, Abby Koenig's Taubin family is strikingly realistic, hilarious, and heartbreaking all at the same time.
Molly Taubin wants the family to be on Your Family Sucks, a show she hates, because she saw an interview with Ronnie Horowitz, the original Heb-Pop (Hebrew-Pop) Star where he claimed to love the show. Molly thinks if she can profess her love for Ronnie Horowitz on air that he will take her away from her family, marry her, and live with her on his ranch. Despite constantly bickering with her sister, Molly convinces Annie to help persuade their parents to allow them to compete. The plot examines both girls' struggles within and outside of their family and the way that flash-in-the-pan celebrity may affect them. After all, Your Family Sucks is the American pastime of The Common man!
Direction by Kevin Jones and Ivy Castle keeps the two-hour one act play moving at a decent pace. The middle drags a bit, but the play rights itself for its finale. I did find myself wishing that an intermission had been included in the middle portion of the show. The characters and plot were vastly engrossing, but two hours is a long time to sit in a metal folding chair. Despite this, no character seems inappropriately played and each one maintains a tangible aura of believability from beginning to end. As if the two lead actresses were not relatable enough, the schoolyard scene with them and their peers ensures that audience will not only believe that these characters are real people but also have empathy and sympathy for their individual journeys.
Also, Abby Koenig's script along with Kevin Jones and Ivy Castle's direction utilizes audience participation. This trick really engages the audience in the production and makes them truly connect with the piece. Audience participation, in all honesty, becomes almost like a character itself, which is supremely fun!
Caroline Menefee as Annie Taubin is fantastic. She commands the stage and makes the audience love her and empathize with her. As a high school aged teenager she is lost in a journey of self-discovery, which makes her all the more relatable. The audience's heart breaks when she has to forfeit an afternoon at school to go home and help her manic-depressive mother dye her hair. It is the realization that Annie is more mature than either of her parents that tinges this comedy with depressing undertones, which are masterfully brought out and played by Caroline Menefee. Striving to keep her parents happy. Her grades up, and discover herself, her struggles seem the hardest and Caroline Menefee breathes fantastic life into the character, making the audience believe in Annie's dreams and hopes as much as she does.
Molly Taubin, played by Reagan Lukefahr, is pretty but dumb. She is supposedly the exact foil to her sister; however, Caroline Menefee is too pretty in the show to play ugly. Thus, the ugly/pretty debate comes down to hair color and clothing style. Reagan Lukefahr does an excellent job portraying the pretty mean girl and the girl with an unhealthy obsession with a celebrity. In the schoolyard scene, her doses of indirect aggression against her sister and sister's friend are delightfully mean and completely realistic, showcasing another place where the writing and direction resplendently present real people to the audience.
Abby Thompson's Nicole Mariano is a fully realized portrait of childhood tragedy. She is constantly coming over to the Taubin household because her parents are never home, which is a sad reminder of how uninvolved many parents are in their children's lives these days. Like Caroline Menefee's Annie, Abby Thompson's Nicole is a sage and wise character, especially for her age. Her scene with Annie shows how insightfully keen both the girls are, and is one of the deepest moments in the play.