We have our problems, but at least we’re not THESE people.
That’s what I kept thinking about my own family while watching the one in “Freedomland” at Salt Lake Acting Company. The Underfingers are utterly and profoundly dysfunctional, which leads to a great deal of outrageous comedy, but which does not make one long to be part of their circle.
The patriarch is Noah (Bob Ormsby), a daft old professor more prone to philosophizing than disciplining. His wife’s departure years ago was the cause of all this angst, it turns out, and his new wife is Claude (Kathryn Atwood), a middle-aged New Age seductress.
They live in a quaint cabin in New England, away from their three children, all of whom converge on the place one weekend. Sig (Teri Cowan) is an imperious New York artist who may be a sell-out, but who at least makes a living. Her sister Polly (Marylynn Alldredge), on the other hand, can’t finish her doctoral dissertation, has no job, and goes to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings solely because the people are nice to her there.
Then there’s their brother, Seth (Paul Kiernan), who lives in the woods and is one step away from forming a militia. His pregnant girlfriend Lori (Gretchen Whalley) arrives with him, and a reporter (Francis Reyes) doing a story about Sig’s work shows up, too.
A reunion of people who don’t like each other much is classic comedy material, and “Freedomland” doesn’t exactly break any new ground. In fact, once the characters and their gripes with each other have been established, the play stalls and idles for a while before finding its focus again.
But when it’s moving, it is often gloriously funny. Sig constantly berates Polly’s shiftlessness, suggesting that when you find yourself still in your pajamas at 2 in the afternoon, you should ask yourself: “Am I sick? Am I 3? Am I in an institution of some kind?” Sig’s paintings, meanwhile, currently focus on clowns, including one of clowns attending the funeral of a parakeet (which the reporter believes the clowns may have killed). Someone channels Oedipus. A church gets blown up. You know, typical family reunion stuff.
The acting is characteristically solid all around, with Teri Cowan’s delightfully superior Sig standing out. Marylynn Alldredge’s waifish Polly is endearing, too, and Bob Ormsby’s intentionally clueless Noah is a joy to behold.
There’s a rather poignant finale, but it’s the snarky, mean-spirited back-biting that makes the play entertaining. These aren’t people you’d want to associate with, but it certainly is fun to watch them from a safe distance.
The bit about "Am I sick? Am I 3?" is something I've found a lot of use for in my everyday life -- not to ask myself, but to suggest to other people to ask themselves.