From Shakespeare to Tracy Letts, dysfunctional family plays have long been a theatrical staple, sometimes to the point of triteness. The trick is to give the genre a swift kick and get it going in a new direction.
Playwright Andrew Dolan puts his new play, “That Good Night” at the Road Theatre Company, neatly through the goalposts. And although Dolan seems overly fond of “surprise” plot twists that would have sent O. Henry back to the drawing board, his play is mostly a delight.
The unlikely moral center of the piece is Sean (Bernie Zilinskas), a drug-addicted clown who still lives with his mother, Millicent (Judith Scarpone). Poisonous patriarch Jim (Leon Russom) has lingered in a coma for months. Now Jim’s adult children have gathered to pull the plug – mostly with a vast sense of relief.
Stephen Gifford’s deceptively cozy living room is subtly grimy – a visual metaphor for deeper troubles afoot. Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting design is unobtrusively evocative, while David B. Marling’s sound is spot-on, right down to the coffee perking offstage.
Director Scott Alan Smith’s emotionally acute staging scores huge laughs, although one bawdy gag needs to be whisked offstage in a timelier manner. The terrific cast includes John Cragen, Keelia Flinn, Chet Grissom, Melissa Kite and Elizabeth Sampson.
Teeming with grit, wit and gallows humor, this dark comedy lifts the rock on some grim family secrets -- and exposes a surprising amount of laughter.
“That Good Night,” Road Theatre Company, Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 21. $25. (866) 811-4111. www.RoadTheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.