On Stage

It's All Relative

Home for the Holidays

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

It was Christmas Eve, and my brother and I had departed from his downtown Chicago apartment before dawn to catch the subway in time to get to O’Hare International Airport, where we’d be leaving to visit my dad in rural Hazard, Ky. for the holidays. 

I won’t bore you with every last detail of what went wrong that day, but the main issue that arose was that my dad—who’d booked our tickets—had gotten it wrong when he told us what airport we’d be flying out of. But despite having to spend a mint to get a cab to the correct airport, a snafu with the ticketing agent and the full-body search that ensued when my brother’s steel-toed boots angered the X-ray machine, we did manage to catch our flight (at the last possible second).

I won’t lie and say the rest of the Christmas vacation was picture-perfect, because when it comes to families and the holidays, that’s not always the case.

How families deal with what goes wrong—and also with what goes right—is at the heart of “Home for the Holidays,” the annual improvised holiday show taking place at the Upfront Theatre weekends through December.

The scenario for “Home for the Holidays” is simple. First, the audience helps figure out a few things about the storyline, such as who the family in question is and what inspires them. The performers use those suggestions to tell the tales of three main characters and their arrival home for a holiday get-together. What happens both before and during the Christmas celebration is explored, and hilarity typically ensues.

I’ve seen the format before, but per the press release I received before viewing the first “Home for the Holidays” performance of the season last Friday, I was reminded that “audiences can expect to see at least one family member they can relate to, as the performers explore the wonderful archetypes and scenarios that bubble up when families collide.”

That was the case at this show, too, as I found myself connecting to different members of the DeAngelos family. I saw myself clearly in the sister who freaked out during airplane turbulence, in the aunt who chose to curtail the details of her recent job loss rather than ruin the holiday vibe for the others, and in the nephew who said he was going out to get some air, but shortly thereafter got caught smoking dope in the backyard.

During the intermission, one of the members of our party said what he saw onstage also reminded him of his own familial festivities, where people strategically hid out in different part of the house to minimize altercations.

As the story barreled toward Christmas during the second half of the show, it became clear the reason people go a little insane around their relatives during the holidays is because they can.

“You can always come home and get the cheese log on the good crystal,” one of the characters told another after she’d drunkenly made a mess during a family toast. The others raised their glasses in solidarity. The takeaway? They weren’t perfect, but they were family.

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