Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Teenager James, the youngest Dryer, has an active imagination and has been feeling left out, so he has taken creative liberties to post exaggerated, fictionalized stories about his family online. When the truth about James' online fiction comes out over Thanksgiving it creates even more strife than usual in the extended Dryer family. Past family issues are brought up, a secret relationship is revealed, and grandma can't stop speaking her mind in between swigs of wine. On top of this, almost everyone is more obsessed with what's on their phones than the other people in the room, which only adds to the tension.
Writers Shelby Maticic, Megan O'Connor, and Luke Gomez have created interesting characters and a plot that is intriguing and keeps us wondering how it will end. They shift the focus from one Dryer family member to the next, so we are constantly finding out new information about each person with realistic dialogue that we've almost all heard at family get-togethers. They also incorporate various types of social media sites and online games the Dryers are obsessed with into the dialogue. The trio of writers have created individuals we can all identify with, along with an obsession that we almost all have.
While the play is full of warmth and plenty of laughs, there are a couple of small issues. When we first meet each of the Dryer family members we see them instead as the fictionalized version that James has created. This is a bit jarring and confusing at first and, with ten characters to introduce this way and some of these fantasy sequences overstaying their welcome, it takes a while to set the main plot in motion. Also, in the second act, when things get more serious and heartfelt, there are several similar lines that are spoken in overlapping unison by different characters. While this is an interesting and different creative touch, it comes across as slightly pretentious, especially since it is completely different in tone and style from the rest of the play.
The cast is composed entirely of Brelby company members which helps in achieving natural and realistic relationships among the characters. They are all gifted in creating believable people and in portraying them realistically with both humor and charm. As James, Mat Vansen portrays the appropriate level of frustration that a teenage boy has when no one pays attention to him. Cody Goulder and Melody Chrispen are charming and full of joy as his parents. Devon Mahon and Mia Passarella form a nice bond as James' brother and sister Liam and Rena, who are closer to each other than they are to James. As James' two aunts Minnie and Maria, Shelby Maticic and April Rideout display the appropriate amount of sibling rivalry even though they are completely different types of sisters. Megan O'Connor is sensational as the Grandma who speaks her mind. The heartfelt conversation she has with her grandkids is especially moving in its realism.
As the three non-Dryer members, Fernando Perez brings the appropriate level of agitation as Maria's belittled husband; David Magadan projects uninhibited joy as Rena's idealistic college poetry major boyfriend; and Brian Maticic is simply adorable as Hiram Finkle, the nerdy, bow tie wearing neighbor who grew up next door to the Dryers and feels closer to them than to his own family. While the characters are somewhat exaggerated stereotypes the Brelby cast create realistic individuals that everyone can identify with.
Director Shelby Maticic has done an exceptional job of staging the action so that all spaces of Chrispen's excellent set are used effectively and that your focus shifts not only from the kitchen to the living room and then to James' bedroom but also from one character to another. It's a similar experience to being at a family holiday and moving from one room to another and going from speaking to one relative to the next and picking up new pieces of information along the way. Ian Shelanskey's media design provides projections of the characters' continual Facebook posts, Instagram photos, texts, tweets, and game playing, all projected on the walls so we can see those online activities while the action unfolds. With O'Connor's perfect character-specific costume designs and Rideout's smart sound design, especially regarding the sound selections for the fantasy characters, it all makes for an intriguing production.
Pretty much everyone today is obsessed with social media and how they feel they can multitask with their mobile devicequickly going from sending an email, to updating your Facebook status, taking a photo, sending a tweet, and then checking your bank account balance all while waiting to get more lives so you can finish playing your favorite online game. It is that fascination that is expertly portrayed in Meet the Dryers along with a family anyone would love to call their own. While the main plot is slight, and I have a few small issues with the script, it is the combination of fun, identifiable characters with clean and smart direction and creative production design that turns this play into a charming, funny, heartwarming, and zany treat.
The Brelby Theatre Company production of Meet the Dryers runs through April 30th, 2016, with performances at 6835 N 58th Avenue in Glendale AZ. Tickets are available at www.brelby.com or by phone at 623-282-2781.
Shelby Maticic, Megan O'Connor and Luke Gomez
Director: Shelby Maticic
Cast: (in order of appearance)