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Theater Review: “The Year to Come"

“The Year To Come” plays through December 30, 2018, at La Jolla Playhouse’s Mandell Weiss Theatre
Photo credit:
Jim Carmody

Families, politics and holidays mix uneasily in the world premiere of Lindsey Ferrentino’s “The Year to Come,” on the boards through Dec. 30 at La Jolla Playhouse.

For those who wonder how we got here (in whatever sense you choose to take that), playwright Lindsey Ferrentino offers snapshots of a family’s New Year’s Eve celebrations in reverse order, beginning in 2018 and ending in 2000.

First, a bit of advice: Don’t sit in the first few rows unless you don’t mind splash from the onstage pool.

Yes, pool. Most of the play takes place in the screened-in backyard of Frank (Jonathan Nichols) and Estelle (Jane Kaczmarek), somewhere in Florida, and cast members occasionally splash around in it.

It’s a great setup for a sitcom, and unfortunately, that’s all this play is. Ferrentino shows a fondness for the quick one-liners and jabs that are heard too often (for my taste) on the airwaves. A little is good; more than two hours just grates.

Marcia DeBonis introduces the show as Estelle’s sister Pam, walking laboriously onstage while dragging a tank of oxygen attached to her nose. “A toast to life,” she says, cigarette in hand.

Pam is (or was) married to Joe (Ray Anthony Thomas), a wannabe (or maybe former) stand-up comedian who regales us with an unfunny bit imitating George W. Bush.

On the other hand, there are real giggles when son Jim (Adam Chanler-Berat) tells mom Estelle that what she’s calling Alexa is really a mug warmer.

When there’s disagreement about one family story, Estelle (Jane Kaczmarek) points out that “any story is about 20% truth and 80% myth.” Husband Frank (Jonathan Nichols) has changed the facts of his life to fit the myth he wants to believe.

Adam Chanler-Berat is terrific as Jim, the liberal in the group, married to peacemaker (and Muslim) Sinan (Pomme Koch), who shows tolerance and humor, even as the conversation becomes increasingly testy. 

Peter Van Wagner does a surprising and wonderful turn as Jewish immigrant family patriarch Pop-Pop (Estelle and Pam’s dad), who moves from aged vegetable in a wheelchair to a rocker, nailing “Viva Las Vegas” on a guitar.

Politics? Oh, yes. Consider the years covered and you can imagine the kind of banter (that’s a polite word for it) you’ll hear. Religion? Yep, there’s diversity in this category as well.

As for the inevitability of change, they keep saying “Change is good,” but it’s not clear that any of them really believe it.

“The Year To Come” gives us your average, everyday family holiday dinner. Some of it is amusing, some annoying, the conversation often heated, sometimes enlightening, mostly just what it is.

Technically this show is terrific. Set designer Christopher Acebo’s enclosed backyard with skylight windows, fake vultures flying around, and that 2000-gallon pool downstage is an eye-opener.

Lap Chi Chui’s lighting, Brandon Walcott’s sound and Dede Ayite’s costumes are first-rate, as is Anna Robinson’s video design.

Director Anne Kauffman keeps all the disparate balls in the air, though Ferrentino might consider sharpening the message and shortening the total. 

The details

“The Year to Come” plays through December 30, 2018, at La Jolla Playhouse’s Mandell Weiss Theatre; 2910 La Jolla Village Drive (on the UCSD campus).

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm