Expecting their three children home for Christmas, parents Ruthie and Bill have prepared their home. Ruthie has cooked a savory meal and Bill has put on his signature red sweater. It’s the holidays, the time of the year when the entire family will gather and everything will be perfect.
Except, sometimes, it isn’t perfect.
Making God Laugh, a two-act play now open at Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables, explores a family’s dynamic as the children flock back to their parents’ empty nest for four of the major holidays.
“The characters are people who are incredibly relatable,” said Director David Arisco, who is also artistic director at Actor’s Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. “You know them.”
Playwright and actor Sean Grennan wrote the four-scene play. Making God Laugh takes the audience on a journey of the characters’ growth and the changes in relationships between family members. Each holiday – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Easter – takes place in a different decade starting in the 1980s and ending in the present.
“The holidays are a time that is supposed to be a happy, joyous time. But things come up. People start drinking a little bit and loosening up and old grudges come up,” said Angie Radosh, who plays Ruthie, the mother in the play.
The children are: former football player Richard, priest Thomas, and aspiring actress Maddie. As they come home for each holiday, the audience is taken on a journey of their emotional and physical growth.
“We may walk a little bit differently than we did 10 years ago,” said Deborah L. Sherman, who plays Maddie.
In the Thanksgiving scene set in the 1980s, Maddie's curly hair and outfit — jean vest and a jean skirt — is reminiscent of a 1980s Madonna video. In the Christmas scene set in the 1990s , Richard is clad in parachute-style pants and a bandana.
Sherman said the play is a “snapshot of anybody’s family.”
“It’s about the complexities in relationships you have between your mom, your dad and your siblings,” she said. “You’ll see yourself in this play.”
The play starts out when Maddie is in her 20s and is an aspiring actress living in New York City. Her side job: substitute teacher. Maddie and Ruthie have a major conflict in the play reminiscent of the complexities of some mother-daughter relationships.
“Ruthie wants everything to be perfect for the holidays,” said Radosh, who plays the character. “Her children are the reason God made her. But Ruthie has her own history.”
When she was younger, Ruthie had a friend who was an aspiring actress. Ruthie saw the lifestyle this goal created for her friend.
“So she doesn’t want Maddie to be subjected to that,” she said. “In Ruthie’s mind, she is helping Maddie. But she is not. So many times as parents we say things out of love that are hurtful. It is hurtful because we want our children to be successful. Ruthie is stifling Maddie's dream. The two have a major conflict in the play.”
Such conflicts between the parents and their children are a major thread in the play. And so is the juxtaposition between what the characters planned for their future and what actually happens.
"We all have these big plans when we are 20," said Sherman. "But one day you wake up and you are 40. It's really about life and how sometimes we don't have control over it."
Added Arisco: “The play is very funny but it also has a lot of heart and honesty and poignant moments to it of things that can happen when you get together with your family for the holidays.”