June’s coming home for closure. She finds it, but not in the package she expects in Another Effing Family Drama, Catherine Pelonero’s Hollywood Fringe Festival production playing at ArtWorks Theatre.
June, a pharmacologist, wants to confront her declining mother about serious childhood issues, including her father’s sexual abuse. But while June is grounded in reality, the rest of the characters behave as if they’re in a different play — more like Alice in Wonderland.
Across a picket fence, June’s childhood friends Troy and Buford Effing are “building” a rubber raft out of wood and nails. Gunshots and police sirens are attributed to another neighbor’s parrot. “You know how they imitate sounds,” Troy explains.
Sister Holly is no better. She bullies Troy, bursts into the kitchen across the fence, clutching a gallon-sized martini glass, and criticizes June’s propensity to speak directly to the audience: “Only assholes break the fourth wall.”
Such distractions prevent June from having the long-delayed conversation with her mother, Eleanor, who’s more interested in playing rhyming games and offering chicken soup as the solution to all problems. Deflection follows deflection until, finally, Eleanor sets a shoebox on the table, informing June that it contains “what you came for.”
We never see what’s inside the box, but in a touching monologue delivered by Ann Ryerson (Mad Men, Desperate Housewives), Eleanor describes its contents, some tangible, some ephemeral: “A jar of lightning bugs you captured on a summer night when you were eight years old … the little ballerina from that jewelry box you had as a girl … another chance to be kind to that deaf boy who used to live across the street.” It’s a surprisingly lucid speech, given Eleanor’s out-of-touch character, and Ryerson’s solid delivery and overall presence anchor this absurdist play like a much-needed paperweight.
It’s not exactly the closure June thought she wanted, but as Mick Jagger put it, “If you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.” June’s once-pinched face gradually relaxes to display a color wheel of emotions — warmth, sadness, joy – a scene played with subtle effectiveness by Eva Minemar. It’s a refreshingly serious character transformation in a play that portended little more than raucous humor.
Maybe the world doesn’t have to make any Effing sense, after all.
Another Effing Family Drama. Hollywood Fringe Festival. Through Sunday, June 26.