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    2008-2009 reviews:
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      Epic Family Epic
    The Hells' kitchen

    The Hell family makes Thanksgiving dinner one to remember in "Epic Family Epic."


    If the thought of sitting down to a big meal with your relatives gives you the shivers, you'll certainly appreciate this play, as it depicts a chaotic, twisted, dysfunctional clan getting together for a holiday dinner far removed from idyllic Norman Rockwell scenes. Produced in conjunction with Hands On, the New York based service organization dedicated to bringing performances to the deaf, "Epic Family Epic" features hearing, hard of hearing and deaf performers and American sign language. As one actor speaks, another relates his words in sign language, making for a compelling, multi-dimensional performance.

    Written and directed by: Ain Gordon.
    Produced by: Alice Dissette.
    Cast: Alek Friedman, Jayne Houdyshell, Lewis Merkin, Socorro Santiago, Valda Setterfield, Mara Stephens, Anne Tomasetti.
    Created in collaboration with: Hands On and Beth Prevor
    Lighting design by: Agnieszka Kunska
    Stage Manager: Corrie Pond

    Related links: Hand On
    Dance Theater Workshop
    219 West 19th St.
    Nov. 19-29, 2003

    Narrated by the patrician Valda Setterfield, who appears clad in a quilted, prairiesque gown, the Hell family gets together for their holiday meal and anxieties abound. Two young women, Delia and Celia Hell, tell the tale of how they were born conjoined (their costumes have velcro patches sewn into them through which they attach themselves periodically) and then separated. After some years away, they're reuniting with the other Hells and are a little nervous about it. You can't blame them, given that no member of the Hell family is what they seeem — all the Hells have several personalities, so it's rather confusing who is exactly who. The tables, set with colorful plastic dishes, have wheels an the bottom and get pushed around as everybody tries to find their place (literally and figuratively).

    "Epic Family Epic" is great fun to watch, not only for witnessing the vigorous sign language, but for the vibrant energy and expressiveness of the performers. The writing is crisp and very funny, especially Aunt Tess's diatribe against doorbells ("Death rings the doorbell, death and kids from the street!"). There is some deft physical comedy and the play only lags a bit when the Wonderfuls (the other side of the Hell family) pay a visit. The dialogue is peppered with phrases worth remembering, especially towards the end when one character muses, "Your family knows just how to hurt you." Bon appetit.

    NOVEMBER 27, 2003

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