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Open: 01/12/15- Close: 02/07/15 A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes
Reviewed for By: Heather Violanti
Heather Phelps-Lipton ©2021  Not your typical Thanksgiving fare--the cast of "A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes"

The familiar rituals of Thanksgiving—preparing the house for company, cooking the big meal, dealing with family squabbles, watching football—inspire Kate Benson’s wonderfully surreal A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes, produced by New Georges in association with The Women’s Project. 

This multi-layered play re-examines Thanksgiving through an Absurdist lens.  Two suited radio commentators—named “# in charge of action” and “@ color commentary”—narrate the events that occur as a family gathers for Thanksgiving, giving everything a play-by-play rundown as if it was a sporting event.  Three sisters—named Cheesecake, Cherry Pie, and Trifle—face various crises as they prepare dinner and deal with their extended family.  Each event is described in terms an incredible athletic feat, from the potentially disastrous “turning of the bird” to making gravy, which erupts into a multi-generational struggle when family matriarch Snapdragon wants things done her way.  There’s even bloodshed—perpetual family klutz Gumbo cuts her finger while making stuffing, a seemingly innocuous event that portends more violence to come.

What could become a one-note device develops into a sustained metaphor for familial relationships.  Beneath the comedy of seeing family spats dissected as sporting events, the playwright elicits sincere empathy for her characters.  There are remarkable moments of connection that never feel forced or predictable, as when GrandDada bandages poor Gumbo’s injured finger, or the family women set aside differences to save Thanksgiving dinner.

Lee Sunday Evans directs the play with a fluidity that accommodates its constant change of scene and emotion.  Set designer Sara C. Walsh places the play in a fake-wood-paneled world that subsequently evokes dingy family basements and high school gyms.  Kathleen Doyle’s bright, eccentric costumes add surprising pops of color, while Brandon Wolcott’s sound design captures the play’s multiple levels of reality, from sporting event to family dinner. The ensemble, some of whom play multiple characters, are uniformly excellent.

The play is not all sweetness and light, however. A violent coda left audience members puzzled, providing one final unexpected twist in a play that constantly defies expectations. 

New York City Center : 55th St. Between 6th and 7th Aves.