The Christmas decorations are abundant and beautiful. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care; well actually on the railing with care but it is the same message. Dad goes over to the piano and begins playing a festive song. Soon family members show up and begin singing with great joy and passion. ‘Tis the season to be jolly and surely this family is fully in the spirit so what could possibly go wrong? Clearly what is on display is a deep and rich manifestation of true family love.
But just beneath this first impression we see that the Dahl family all assembled in their rural Connecticut home is in fact far less than perfect. Or sure the food and beverages are abundant and delicious but it doesn’t take long before some rather powerful clashes in thoughts and ideas and life styles begin to rear their ugly heads.
As appropriate to Christmas there is a strong presence of Christian ideals and practices evident in the Dahl household but there is also plenty of disagreement amongst the assembled group. One daughter is married to another woman and while there is a claim of full acceptance by mom and dad, it is not received with total conviction, nor is it necessarily shared by the entire family. Another man present claims to be a Priest and when questioned as to how a priest can have a wife he explains the simple truth that he is an Episcopal priest and therefore he is allowed to be married. But is he really an Episcopal priest?
Another son shows up with his new girlfriend only the family soon learns that the woman is not the son’s girlfriend but rather that the son is her “sponsor” meaning that he is helping her in a sobriety program. Revealed therefore is that son’s troubled past with drugs and alcohol. In fact I will digress here for just a moment because that particularly element struck me with a very similar experience a long time ago.
I was a brand new lawyer in a very upscale town near Chicago. One day a very beautiful young lady came to my office and said: “I got a ticket, can you help me?” Sure! But the “ticket” turned out to be a DUI. In our conversation I learned that she was the youngest of an extremely wealthy family. All of her brothers and sisters were either attending or had graduated from top Ivy League schools but the baby of the family had been in drug rehab since age 13. Now she proclaimed joy at finding something to replace those other drugs, something just as satisfying but legal. “What is that?” I asked to which she responded with “alcohol.” She simply just didn’t get it but I took her case. Not long after I received a call from the local police informing me that I didn’t need to show up for court because my young client was found dead after crashing into a tree at a high rate of speed. Blood tests confirmed her blood alcohol level was 2.0. To this day I have never stopped thinking about how this otherwise seemingly perfect family handled that horrible tragedy. Digression over.
“Cult of Love” presents a powerful display of deep familial love challenged by individual differences that could and to a significant extent did tear at the love that bound the Dahl family. As children grow they also begin to develop their own perception of the world and it does not always remain in full conformity with their heritage. This does lead to various levels of stress and strife yet beneath it all remains a strong undercurrent of love. The show is rich in both humor and deep drama. The acting is superb and it achieves the two most important things a good show must achieve and that is it stimulates thought and entertains.
“Cult of Love” is at the IAMA Theatre Company, Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90039 now through June 24th. Show times are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 7:00 p.m. Reservations and ticketing available by calling 323-380-8843 or online at: iamatheatre website.
Photo credits: Dean Cechvala
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