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A familiar story of a dysfunctional family’s holiday is given welcome depth courtesy of some nicely-realized characters.

Theatre Review (LA): ‘Merry F***in’ Christmas, Y’all’ by Marnie Olson

A dysfunctional Texas family arrives at a rented cabin in Colorado to spend the holidays together, an outing arranged by the brood’s matriarch, Lucie (Dianne Travis). The central characters of Merry F***in’ Christmas, Y’aal are daughter Mia (playwright Marnie Olson) and her partner Alana (Erin Treanor), who can both claim outsider status for this particular get-together: Alana, because she’s not a blood relative; and Mia, who is afraid she’ll be rejected by her traditional-values mother if she admits her sexuality.

Lucie’s other children, all male, have challenges of their own. Gunnar (Daniel Pittack), the youngest, has a substantial libido and substance abuse problem. Curtis (Julian Vican), the middle brother, is likewise rudderless. Only the eldest, Liam (Mike Goulis) seems to have settled down, but with a much, much older former rodeo queen, Rhiannon (Ivy Jones).Merry_Xmas

The boys are aware of the true nature of Mia’s relationship with Alana, but Lucie remains willfully oblivious. She’s got lots of wholesome activities planned, including a sleigh ride and building a nativity scene, but most everyone else is only interested in getting wasted as quickly as possible. Mia is quick to join in, as self-medicating is the way the family has always managed to get along when everyone’s together. Alana quickly shames her into sobriety and she is able to spend the rest of the holiday observing her relatives with a clear head.

When the boys go out to a local honky tonk, Gunnar brings home Rachel (Caroline Marshall), an extremely intoxicated barfly. Coincidentally, she’d had a relationship with Mia, but left her for a man because she was just experimenting (a “faux-mosexual,” Alana helpfully observes). And when the boys smash a snowmobile against the side of the cabin and get into a drunken brawl, everything comes to a head and truths are revealed.

Olson is more interested in her female characters than the men, who are little more than buffoons and instigators. All of the female characters have transformative moments and more depth. Travis’s Lucie has a nice reversal when she pulls off her blinders and finally sees her children for what they are, warts and all. Though it’s a small part, Marshall does a nice job with Rachel.

Best and most surprising of all is Jones’s Rhiannon, who at first comes off as an oblivious, over-the-hill rodeo queen getting her last thrills with a younger man, only to reveal that she’s completely self-aware and knows how tenuous her grasp on happiness is.

Kerr Lordygan’s direction is fine, and all the actors perform with a high degree of professionalism. Joshua Silva’s cabin set is attractive, and the whole production is nicely realized, with perhaps a couple of between-scene blackouts running a bit too long.

Overall, Merry F***in’ Christmas, Y’all is a familiar but entertaining look at a disastrous Christmas (and who hasn’t had one of those?) salvaged by a family’s abiding love and tolerance. It plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through January 5, 2014, at the Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Boulevard, Valley Village. Reservations can be made online or by calling (818) 508-3003.

Photo (David Nott): Marnie Olson (l) and Erin Treanor.

About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and inbound marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.

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