Tuesday, December 21, 2021

"Family Dinner" and "The Mess" at HUGE Theater

After pivoting to a very 2020 Zoom version last year, everyone's favorite improv show Family Dinner is back at HUGE Theater where they belong! Where we can watch a delightfully dysfunctional family reunite for a holiday* dinner and actually eat it, live in front of us! I saw the show last weekend with my blogger friends from Play Off the Page and The Stages of MN (and then stayed to watch the also hilarious improv troupe The Mess), and laughed harder than I have in a long time. Family Dinner is hugely popular and often sells out its twice-weekly shows from mid-November through the end of the year, because everyone can relate to that awkward family dinner, even if this one is a bit more extreme in awkwardness and drama. But it's never mean-spirited, you get the sense that this improvised family loves each other, even whilst driving each other crazy. The final two performances this year are on New Year's Eve and Day - get your tickets now! While you're on the HUGE website, check out what else is going on, with live shows six days a week.

Created and directed by Molly Ritchie, Family Dinner has been around in some form for 20 years, and at HUGE for 10. The concept is simple - a two-act long-form improv show in which a group of improvisers create very specific family dynamics as people gather for a holiday celebration in the first act (with possible secrets to be revealed, suggested by the audience), then sit around the dinner table and eat actual food in the second act, when things get even awkwarder. Each night's cast is selected from a group of 19 very talented, quick-thinking, and funny performers, and on the night I attended included Rita Boersma, Mike Fotis, and Jake Scott (of the following show The Mess) and John Gebretatose, Samantha Baker Harris, and Tom Winner. The story and relationships evolve as the show continues; what I saw was a couple (recently secretly divorced) with three grown sons, one with his new fiancĂ© in tow, one secretly recently ex-clergy, one who believed in Santa Claus until he was 16 and still believes his parents are the perfect couple. In a series of scenes with pairs or smaller groups, the improvisers continue to build upon the story, adding details and specifics for each character and relationship, until we have a very real and believable family. Then when everyone gathers around the table in Act Two things get a little chaotic and hectic as food gets passed, commented on, and eaten, and any remaining secrets are revealed. It's just sheer delight, hilarity, and holiday joy.

And as long as you're seeing Family Dinner at 8, might as well stay for the 9:30 show (and 10:30 if you're not a #morningperson), which on Saturdays is The Mess. As a few of the performers noted, we went from the realism of Family Dinner to the absurdism of The Mess, which is like the fun dessert of the meal. Performers Rita Boersma, Mike Fotis, Molly Ritchie, James Rone, and Jake Scott created a wonderfully ridiculous series of interrelated scenes, often jumping back and forth between them with breakneck speed. The show started with people marrying a goldfish or a plate of wings, and just got crazier from there. This troupe leads each other and the audience down roads even they didn't know they were going down, and it's really fun to follow along and try to keep up with the madness.

Visit the HUGE Theater website to see their current schedule and to purchase tickets for Family Dinner, The Mess, and other shows ($15 or less per show).