12 Steps to a More Dysfunctional Family

Local Arts Reviews

12 Steps to a More Dysfunctional Family: A Program to Keep

The Vortex, through July 7

Finally, a performance that is truly family entertainment. When my family gets together, our favorite occupation isn't Trivial Pursuit; it's impersonating each other with our individual personality tics. Rob Nash has elevated this unhealthy sport into a fulfilling art. He doesn't just "do" Windsong, the lesbian aunt of two problem teenagers, he becomes Windsong. He shares her feelings with the group, he sits with her legs akimbo, he prepares her Echinacea-based colonic drinks. By stiffening his back or loosening his arms -- or by ingenious use of two props, a chair and a shirt -- Nash segues instantly to Windsong's uptight sister Margot, Margot's bulimic daughter Ashley, or one of the other four characters. Nash's ability to transform his voice and face as he switches character astounds.

The family arrangements are as convoluted as Windsong's herbal cures. By this third installment of the Dysfunctional trilogy, Margot's children, Ashley and Matt, have moved in with their father's mother Mildred, their father's gay brother, Fred, and Windsong. In Episode III, angry Matt will pave the way for the third family visit to a 12-step program by selling drugs and disobeying house rules set by Windsong and Fred. All this may sound like a dramatic maze, but when Nash gives each of his characters a bow at the end, finishing as Fred, only one answer remains to be found: How many copies of her book, Starting Over at 60, did Grandma Mildred sell after her appearance on Jerry Springer?

By becoming his characters, Nash also defends against attacks on his writing. If a line or two is cheesy, it must be Windsong's blind faith in treatment programs or Margot's lobotomized sense of humor. If a line serves only to shock, it's because Fred likes to curse. The storyline may veer closer to the Colbys than the Capulets, but that fits most modern clans.

When the lines hit their mark, such as during Ashley's "Doesn't anyone else hate their life?" soliloquy, Dysfunctional Family pulls the whole mind into the Vortex. The imagination centers on Nash's mime of the teenage girl, while the memory throws up moments of desperation comparable to Ashley's.

This is the play to attend with that family member who impersonates you best. I went with my sister Felicity and we played spot the relative -- a little dysfunctional, but dynamite fun. "There's nothing onstage but him and a chair," Felicity said, "but you can see the house, the people, everything."

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12 Steps to a More Dysfunctional Family, Rob Nash, The Vortex

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