The play “Making God Laugh” follows 30 years in the lives of a Midwestern family—parents and their three children—as they struggle with their dreams and plans, yet family traditions are rekindled, for better or worse, over the holidays.
Surf City Theatre Company's production of “Making God Laugh,” written by Sean Grennan, opens at the 2nd Story Theatre in Hermosa Beach on Saturday, Nov. 23, and runs through Dec. 8.
“It's about the plans you make for life and what you encounter on the way that changes those plans,” said John-Patrick Driscoll, who is directing his first play with Surf City Theatre.
Melody Cohen plays Ruthie, the family's matriarch.
“Ruthie's goal in life is perfection, at least perfection as it would look to others, it's very important to her... nothing ever is and that's the constant challenge,” Cohen said. “She worries about her kids, she wants perfection for them. She worries about everything... every little thing. She loves them, maybe a little too critical, but she loves them very much.”
Bill, the family's patriarch, is played by Christopher Mur, who calls the character the “peacekeeper” of the family.
“Ruthie is a big big personality and Bill's been in love with her since the day he saw her,” Mur said. “With that you take the good and the bad and try to manage it. He has to manage that fine line with his adult children.”
Carly Hendricks plays Maddie, the daughter who leaves for New York to be an actress. Hendricks said Maddie is “torn between these two worlds, the world she wants to pursue and be apart of, and the world that she comes from.”
“In the beginning she's full of a lot of fire and life, and not really as worried about the world, she's still got this fire and ambition,” Hendricks said. “As the play goes on, she's kind of worn down by the challenges of pursuing a career in acting and the lack of support she has from her mother, which is a very significant relationship in her life.”
One of the biggest challenges of “Making God Laugh” is aging 30 years in four scenes.
Those transitions are made easier thanks to costume designer Amy Cornwall and hair and makeup designer Patty Jarvis, according to Mur.
“They are giving us all the tools necessarily to progress in that way so the audience can get that feeling of our progression,” Mur said. “But it is a challenge as we get older. We move a little bit differently and in the end we have to keep that in mind in the scope of the time frame.”
But Driscoll said it also goes beyond the exterior.
“Getting a shared history for a family is not the easiest thing in the world to do... learning that shared history of what they've gone through was something we worked very hard on.”
New to Surf City
Mur, who moved with his family to Redondo Beach in 2013, was drawn to theater early when he did his first play at the Des Moines Community Playhouse in a Children's Theatre production of “Treasure Island.” He played the “worst” pirate “Black Dog.” During a meet-and-greet, a kid kicked him and broke his knuckle because of his bad character.
“I went, 'This is the life for me,'” Mur recalled.
While that was “many years ago,” he moved to Los Angeles in 2001 to pursue acting. Injuries and a writer's strike halted his acting career for a time, but he is making his way back to full-time acting.
Hendricks, who moved to Hermosa Beach about five years ago, is also new to Surf City. She moved from Pennsylvania to California for an engineering job.
“I started pursuing acting in my spare time,” she said.
Relating to the characters
“Making God Laugh” features a dysfunctional family that the audience will be able to sympathize with, according to Cohen.
“I think that everybody is going to be able to relate to the conflicts and the caring, the underlying theme that everyone deeply cares about everyone else and everyone one is growing and changing,” Cohen said. “The only thing you can really count on in life is change... we make plans and God laughs. What the title goes back to is a Woody Allen quote, 'If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.'”
“I hope the audiences finds a little bit of their own selves in watching the play, find a little bit of their own family, find those moments where they can relate to what this family is going through and really overall get the real point of the play is enjoying the moment, being in the moment, being there,” Mur said.
Driscoll added, “We have such a chaotic world right now, chaotic life, the holidays themselves can be pressure ridden and angst ridden. I hope they (audience) come in here for two hours and honestly just have a really good time and forget about life outside for awhile.”
The cast also includes John Untalan as Richard and Andrew Gerde as Thomas.
The 2nd Story Theatre is located at 710 Pier Ave.
For more information, including dates and times, visit surfcitytheatre.com.