Marcus Downs's new play, The Booby Trap, is a holiday show -- but don't run away yet.
The play works to find middle ground between two archetypes: the sweet holiday experience (think A Christmas Carol in any guise) and the more aggressively cynical creation (Beaverdance comes to mind).
"I was reading Eugene O'Neill about 10 years ago and I thought, 'Oh my God. Is there any humor in this play?'" Downs says.
That triggered one idea, but it would take The Brothers Karamazov -- really not known as a laugh riot -- for Downs to find his in. The book includes a scene where the father gets into an argument, storms out, and then returns to finish his soup.
Downs realized that he was telling a family drama with a buffoon for a patriarch. The Booby Trap includes the parents, a pair of brothers, and the father's stripper lover, who are jammed together for a holiday dinner in an attempt to keep the father's will in the family, and not with the exotic dancer.
"The entire play is about this family trying to sit down, say prayers, and eat. By the time they do, everything has fallen apart," Downs says.
He created a 10-minute version, and then had several workshops to develop the piece. He had been in touch with Paul von Stoetzel about the show. The pair had worked together in the past, and von Stoetzel knew that Nimbus had an opening in December. "I'm a big believer in doing the work and making it happen," von Stoetzel says.
"If you have been directing as long as I have, it is much more important to get along and work with the people," von Stoetzel says. "This play is about realism. If you don't feel this family is a family, it won't make sense."
The performing team includes Matt Kelly and Greg Hernandez as the two brothers, Sarah Broude as mother Marcy, Victoria LaChelle as the girlfriend, and Douglas Stewart as the father, Franklin.
Stewart is a latecomer to the cast, as conflicts meant the original actor intended for the role was unable to participate. Downs and von Stoetzel looked far and wide for a replacement, before finding Stewart nearly at the last second.
Not only is Stewart an actor with decades of experience, but also he has a rehearsal space available -- another missing item for the production at that moment. "He called back and said he read the script and wanted to do it. He also said he had a rehearsal space. He had no idea we were looking for rehearsal space. I just threw a Hail Mary pass and he caught it," Downs says.
The show offers plenty of challenges to the cast, such as Broude's mother, who is "so sweet around you that you want to apologize, but is not weak," von Stoetzel says.
For Stewart, the challenge is balancing the two sides of Franklin: the intellectual and the buffoon. "He's self-aware of being a fool. He is an underachieving, over-educated fool," Downs says.
That this is all happening over a holiday meal just adds to the intensity of it all. "It's like throwing a hand grenade into a mine field," von Stoetzel says.
IF YOU GO:
The Booby Trap Through December 14 Nimbus Theatre 1517 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis $12-$15 Tickets available at the door or visit online to make reservations.