Crashing the Party at Mixed Blood

Held hostage by life: The cast of Crashing the Party
Rich Ryan

If the American Dream is dead, then the characters in Crashing the Party, the world-premiere comedy by Josh Tobiessen at Mixed Blood, are picking at the corpse.

While family patriarch David is away all day at the business he built from scratch—tellingly, we never learn what exactly that business is—the rest of the family searches for ways to fill their days. Sure, son Arthur has just graduated from college, but he's never had a job in his life and has just refused an offer because "the lighting was weird." Elder son David Jr. spends his days on the internet or watching TV, with a vague plan for either 1) having a T-shirt design business or 2) getting on Jeopardy. Finally, wife Catherine spends her time collecting discarded packing boxes to give to the homeless.

The well-to-do Martin family needs a shock to the system—one they get over the course of a single evening, when a quiet family birthday celebration for Papa turns into a hostage situation, with the house surrounded by a trigger-happy SWAT team.

Tobiessen has created a screwball comedy for the modern world, one in which the physical humor can come from a clueless FBI agent (delightfully played by Mo Perry) who repeatedly shocks Arthur (Rolando Martinez, who does a fine job with all of his physical humor) into a stupor. The foibles of the family—and believe me, they are many—are merged with a growing sense of unease that their lives are at a dead end.

That's certainly true of the patriarch, brought clearly to life by Joe Minjares. He has decided enough is enough and he's going to flee not just the business but the life he has created, with his wife—using embezzled money, of course. Minjares plays the comedy well, even if he is often the straight man for the other seven characters. More importantly, he brings out the sadness and anger that lie just beneath the surface of the character.

Minjares is well matched with Sally Wingert as Catherine. Wingert gives her usual terrific performance. Catherine spends most of the show as the foil to David's plans, tossing in delay after delay until there's nothing he can do but accept his punishment. Again, while Catherine's surface is shrill and apparently clueless, Wingert lets us see the lonely, lost woman inside who wants to have back the husband she married.

It would be easy to reduce the rest of the cast to types. David is a lazy slacker. Britney, Arthur's girlfriend, has a hyper type-A personality and demands that everything be perfect. There's a straight-laced accountant, and even a friendly police officer who offers Catherine a bit of temptation. But Tobiessen's script, and the set of excellent performances, don't allow for just one dimension. The characters contain layers beneath their surfaces. Some of that works for comedy, but it also lets us see how each of the characters, in their own ways, are lost in the early 21st century.

The actors make the best of the humor and occasional pathos, especially Ricardo Vazquez as David Jr., who comes off as little more than a buffoon in the early part (especially as he has ordered a stripper for his father's birthday and does an inappropriate sexy dance with each new character as they arrive), but he showcases a genuine anger. Vazquez lets us see how much it hurts David Jr. to be a 30-year-old living with his parents.

The other supporting actors mine their characters for plenty of humor, especially Ansa Akyea as officer Frank Franco. Akyea, as always, fully commits to the character, even if it takes him into rather dark, or perhaps that would be hot pink, areas.

Director Sarah Rasmussen does an excellent job of controlling the chaos, ramping up the energy quickly during the opening scenes and then building to the end. The whole production is fast-paced and tight. That's essential for a comedy of this type, but it also gives the occasional moments of drama—especially a well-played scene between the Davids—all the more weight.

Even with all the comedy in Crashing the Party, a decidedly Mixed Blood message is at the heart of the play. In the end, we see a portrait of the American family in 2012: blending different races, welcoming outsiders as new friends, and finding hope amid a slightly burned five-course meal.

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