Wolf Pack Theatre Company’s Uncle Nick! introduces you to a family on Christmas Eve. But for those lucky enough to spend the holidays with their extended family, this one feels remarkably homey. The set looks like your Aunt Irene’s over-decorated living room as of All Saint’s Day what with all the Christmas lights and tchotchkes – a remarkable feat considering Uncle Nick’s venue is the sanctuary of a church and so it must come down each week for services.
The writing sounds like real conversations you’d have with your family, complete with shoutings and recriminations of why who had to carry the fifty pounds of birdseed or whose fault it is the pet rodent escaped the cage again.
Lauren Patton’s outbursts, and more important her threatening glares, as the mother Joan that allow her to maintain some semblance of control in the chaos are spot on. The three children all play their characters with believable gusto, with Destiny Staton disdaining as the put-upon eldest, Kaitlyn Elizabeth Gebhardt whining with the unfairness of the youngest who is not being listened to, and Aaron Williams particularly delights in playing the trouble-maker in the middle.
The timing on the jokes by all is excellent, flying fast enough you can sympathize with Jamie Brill’s father Ted’s bewildered disengagement. Fortunately, the occasional frozen scene and effective light change allows Ted to catch you up on the action and catch a breather for each escalation beyond the bedlam of this nuclear family.
Paul Davis is simply charming as sweet smiling brother-in-law Peter. Peter’s girlfriend, Patti, played by Rebekah Rowe, exhibits ultimately believable patience as the outsider guest. Lee Rowe as the eponymous Uncle Nick staggers through the proceedings with aplomb. But Susan L. Smithers as Aunt Clara is the relative you have to see to believe – from her Scooby Doo flashbacks to her miraculously male calico, she is hilarious.
Director William D. Leary usually writes about disturbing subjects. His foray into comedy continues his strength of writing dialogue that sounds like real conversations and demonstrates a lively sense of humor that he is also good at getting out of his actors. Whereas his other works have a strong narrative, Uncle Nick! feels like the focus is on the situation rather than the story with not much resolved. But that sense of continuance is part of what allows it to capture the interpersonal relationships of a family holiday gathering so well.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one intermission
Uncle Nick plays through December 10, 2016 with Wolfpack Theatre Company at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church— 5820 Riverdale Road in Riverdale, MD. Tickets are available at the door or in advance online.