With a title such as “Let’s Kill Grandma This Christmas: The Other F^#king Christmas Story,” it’s logical to expect the worst. Will Brian Gianci’s “twisted new comedy,” as it’s billed, be a tasteless gathering of avaricious relatives hovering over a foul-speaking, foul-tempered rich old bag, a combination of Ruth Gordon in “Where’s Poppa?” and Granny Clampett? Well, yes, to a large extent. But beneath the anything-for-a-laugh engineering and largely one-dimensional people onstage is a genuinely troubled modern family, battered by a nonfunctioning economy and endowed with surprisingly complicated impulses toward one another. Gianci’s farce wants only to be a potty-mouthed fest of familial ill will, but if he dug a little deeper and gave these folks more backstory, he might have a comedy-drama of real feeling.
On set designer Harry Feiner’s convincingly moldy noble ruin of a Victorian living room, granddaughter Jen (Brandi Nicole Wilson) and her ne’er-do-well husband, Brett (Kevin O’Donnell), ponder Grandma’s health as they arrive for her Christmas birthday. Granny is a sturdy 80, but as she’s leaving them the house and her other granddaughter, the self-centered Leigh (Katie Webber), $2.2 million, her demise would be welcome to all. Also arriving are Leigh’s spineless spouse, Carl (James Wirt), and Brett’s wheelchair-bound vet brother, Ray (Adam Mucci), bringing with them some not-altogether-persuasive family baggage. Suffice it to say that multiple affairs are being pursued, and one family member will fall in love in a most unlikely way. Prepare for geriatric-sex jokes, weed-smoking jokes, small-penis jokes, and the eventual arrival of Granny Cathy (Roxie Lucas), who, after a rudimentary cursing and bitching introductory scene, turns out to be a little more complex.
I’m not sure how Gianci and director John Dapolito want us to feel about her. She’s a gun-waving, grass-puffing, libertarian terror, but she’s also one of the few people onstage with something of a moral code, and after her four-letter-word-strewn entrance she shows signs of thoughtfulness and a “Harold and Maude”–like indomitable spirit that we’re probably supposed to admire. Lucas has a lot more to play than the others. Jen’s self-pitying drunkenness, Brett’s all-consuming greed, and Leigh’s whiny double-dealing don’t take long to pall. Carl’s sniveling nerdiness is equally one-note, but as imaginatively sounded by Wirt, it’s a well-sustained one. The same goes for Mucci’s Ray, a fellow dealt a bad deal who tries to see the best in people and life.
It’s emblematic of Gianci’s casual stagecraft that although virtually everyone is equally unlikable and amoral, some get a happy ending and others get punished. The outlandish behaviors and scattershot slapstick homicide attempts may scream “Moose Murders,” but the bruised filial feelings and deep family wounds also evoke “August: Osage County.” What a mixed bag “Let’s Kill Grandma This Christmas” is.
Presented by Robert Nicotra and John Dapolito at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 W. 46th St., NYC. Dec. 3–Jan. 6. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, www.theatermania.com, or www.letskillgrandmatheplay.com. Casting by Judy Bowman Casting.
Critic’s Score: B-