REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Pancake House

By Tara Sissompancake breakfast by tara sissons

Directed by Sean Kelly

Produced by The New Colony

At the Viaduct Theatre, Chicago

World premiere Pancake Breakfast falls apart at the end

The Malloy family’s annual Pancake Breakfast on the 4th of July in Bel Air, Maryland is the setting for a family drama that plays like an HBO series.  Three generations of Malloy’s together with new relations gather for the annual celebration despite the underlying turmoil that pervades this dysfunctional family. Playwright Tara Sissons spends much of the 95 minute one act introducing the characters and showing us the slice-of-life interaction at their yearly reunion.  The show suffers from too much non-action as it drifts into boredom. This reunion format has all the requisite players.

pancake breakfast by tara sissons

We see that Lillian (Arlene Malinowski) is a controlling mother to her 21 year old son Randy (Even Linder), who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome (extreme anti-social behavior). Lilliam also has to contend with her father who is showing signs of dementia. Her daughter Beatrice (Thea Lux) realizes that her mother is smothering her brother Randy which results in a him becoming unable to function on his own.

pancake breakfast by tara sissons

Aunt Eleanor (Susan Veronika Adler) arrives hoping to reconcile with her gay son Bobby (Andrew Hobgood) who brings his lover Gabriel (Gary Tiedmann) to the clan gathering. Bud (Steve Ratcliff), Lillian’s ex-husband, arrives with his much younger new wife Darcy (Megan Johns). The stage is set for melodrama. We see Randy’s temper tantrum and Lillian’s emotional reaction as well as Bobby estrangement from both his mother and his lover. The family’s dysfunctional members abound.

pancake breakfast by tara sissons

After the pancake eating scene, the family gets ready for the watermelon eating and the Abe Lincoln look-alike contests and the parade in between short conversations for background development.  Maybe its because Sission has too many stories afloat, but the play sags from inaction and lack of dramatic arch that slows the pace considerably.

Then while eating crabs,  the entire family turns on Lillian’s handling of Randy. The attack is lead by Beatrice, Bud and Darcy. They believe  that Lillian must let go of Randy and allow him to move to a school that may be able to help him cope with the world. This dynamically emotional scene pits Lillian against every other family member. She not only resists but attacks back everyone staunchly defending her actions toward Randy.

Tempers fly but nothing is resolved when Randy appears and defends his mother by stating that he’ll not abandon her like everyone else.  Amazingly,  the entire family shuts up and abandons their intervention without a whimper. After a sullenly silent scene, the play ends without resolving much.

I was disappointed since I spent over an hour getting to know and care about the foible of the Malloy clan that left too many issues  unresolved. Why would the family plot to do an intervention to aid Randy, then so easily give up after Randy’s short declaration? Beatrice and Bobby’s issues fizzled also. Pancake Breakfast plays as if playwright Sissions couldn’t figure out how to  end her play.  There are the ingredients for a worthy family saga here, it just needs to be re-thought for a stronger conclusion.  I’d advise starting the conflict sooner and resolving such with more depth. This shows is a work-in-progress. The ensemble acting was excellent and Nick Sieben’s runway set allowed for several locations all visible to the audience at once. Evan Linder, Arlene Malinowski and Susan Adler gave particularly strong performances.  With a tighter focus and some rewrites, Pancake Breakfast could emerge as a meal worth savoring.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

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