'37 postcards' sends a funny, touching message

Avery (Jason Nykiel) and his fiancée, Gillian (Alex Sturycz) meet together for the first time with Avery's family that includes, from left, his dad Stanford (Mike Crowley), Aunt Ester (Laura Larson) and his mother Evelyn in a scene from Lake Country Playhouse's "37 Postcards."

Avery (Jason Nykiel) and his fiancée, Gillian (Alex Sturycz) meet together for the first time with Avery's family that includes, from left, his dad Stanford (Mike Crowley), Aunt Ester (Laura Larson) and his mother Evelyn in a scene from Lake Country Playhouse's "37 Postcards."

 

By MARILYN JOZWIK

Published Jan. 30, 2018


There is something a little off with the Sutton Family. Their house tilts quite obviously and we soon realize that the family itself is a bit off.

Grandma appears after her daughter thought she was dead, the upstairs toilet explodes, dad likes to hit neon golf balls at night, an aunt has a sex phone cottage industry and the family dog has been inadvertently left outside for a year.

Such is the stage family that director Jim Baker had to assemble for Lake Country Playhouse’s “37 Postcards.”

And what a pitch-perfect cast he found. Though there are some outrageously funny bits, the comedy, written by Michael McKeever, is actually rather delicate. A too heavy hand on the comedy would have spoiled this recipe for comedic – and dramatic – success.

Baker holds back the cast from getting too rambunctious with the humor, which makes for an utterly warm, tender, funny and thoroughly enjoyable presentation.

We first see Evelyn Sutton (Sara Sarna) in an excited state as she awaits the arrival of her son, Avery (Jason Nykiel), who has been gone for many years and living in Europe. There is a childlike quality to her optimism.

Reality check

Next we meet Evelyn’s sister, Ester (Laura Larson), who is equally gracious and upbeat, yet seems to be more level-headed. There doesn’t appear to be anything amiss with the family until Avery arrives with his fianceé, Gillian (Alex Sturycz), and all the blemishes and warts of the Suttons are uncovered. First, Gillian is mistaken for the maid; when she’s not, the family can’t seem to get her name straight. The two devices account for considerable humor. 

In Act II, we learn even more of the family’s peccadilloes and Avery’s father’s secret. But we also learn that their bizarre behavior is just a coping mechanism for a family tragedy some years earlier and a present health issue. When Avery comes to that realization, he understands why the family operates as it does and the unconditional love they have for each other.

Preferring their own reality, the Sutton family has become oblivious to the obvious in their lives, including the drastic leaning of their house. Every time Avery brings up the sinkhole that is tipping the house like the Titanic, family members look quizzically at him, saying, “What tilt?”

The show has a feel of “You Can’t Take It with You,” with its eccentric characters, and “Over the River and Through the Woods” for the warmth of family, which took Avery time to see.  Its way of dealing with hardship has a bit of a “Next to Normal” vibe, though much lighter.

Measured lines

McKeever has delivered a fine script, which the cast has executed exceptionally well. Performers stay patient with the dialogue, letting each line simmer to allow all the delicious humor to cook to perfection, as well as the sweetness.

In a talkback, one audience member mentioned how real the characters seemed. Indeed, you felt like you were peeking in the window of the Sutton home.

This ensemble cast really jelled. I especially enjoyed Larson’s Aunt Ester, who exuded kindness and compassion. Her characterization is so consistent, giving Aunt Ester a rather wise demeanor. Even when she accidentally falls into the phone sex business, she rationalizes that she’s “providing necessary services to the octogenarians of Fairfield County.” And it seems to make perfect sense.

Sarna’s Evelyn is also well-drawn. She is in a near perpetual fog, but seems perfectly content in her world. In Act II, Avery tries to drag her back to the reality of her life, which sends her into a rage. It is a beautifully done, emotional scene.

Evelyn (Sara Sarna) busies herself with her flowers while her son Avery (Jason Nykiel) tries to get her to see the reality of her situation in a scene from Lake Country Playhouse's "37 Postcards."

Evelyn (Sara Sarna) busies herself with her flowers while her son Avery (Jason Nykiel) tries to get her to see the reality of her situation in a scene from Lake Country Playhouse's "37 Postcards."

 

Nykiel couldn’t be better as the young Avery, who returns to a family that shows few signs of normalcy, at one point saying, “I have to go now. I’ve got to find a portal back to reality.” His annoyance is apparent, but not exaggerated, in his facial and body language and exasperated tone. Nykiel gives a very mature performance that highlights the comedy and tragedy of his situation.

Audience appreciation

As Avery’s dad, Crowley matches the upbeat ease of his wife and Ester in dealing with the family situations.

Stage newcomer Sturycz delivered a veteran performance with the conniving Gillian. Hers is a natural, normal presence among the Sutton family chaos. She calls the Sutton home “a well-appointed mad house.” Sturycz has a fine stage presence and demeanor that is perfect for the role.

But the real scene stealer is Dorothy Blish, who LCP audiences are more used to seeing manning the box office. Blish returns to the stage for the first time since 2011 with her hilarious portrayal of the foul-mouthed Nana, who has had unforgettable interactions with notables such as Martha Stewart, Zelda Fitzgerald and Pat Nixon. There is little subtlety to her role, which has her spouting out language, mostly at Gillian, that would make a sailor blush. The audience loved it.

Nana (Dorothy Blish) looks innocent enough as she works on her knitting but can cut anyone down to size with her caustic remarks in Lake Country Playhouse's "37 Postcards."

Nana (Dorothy Blish) looks innocent enough as she works on her knitting but can cut anyone down to size with her caustic remarks in Lake Country Playhouse's "37 Postcards."

 

As they did the whole show, reacting to the comedy and emotion throughout.

A shout-out to Scott Prox and his construction team for building a set that actually tilts, adding to the verisimilitude of the show. Not a small feat.

If you go

Who: Lake Country Playhouse

What: “37 Postcards”

When: Through Feb. 11

Where: 221 E. Capitol Drive, Hartland

Tickets/Info: 262-367-4697/lakecountryplayhousewi.org