The world premiere of Reed McColm’s new family comedy, “Together Again for the Next Time,” feels a little bit like watching a live taping of a Lifetime channel show.
That’s because this script will probably end up on the Lifetime channel, as did McColm’s original 2008 script, “Together Again for the First Time.”
As a blended-family comedy, this sequel hits all the right notes: It’s funny, heartwarming, fast-paced and it teaches worthwhile (if not original) lessons about the importance of family life.
It’s not better than the first one – it’s not quite as sharp and polished – but it should please the audiences who made a surprise hit out of the original, which had its first professional production at Interplayers in 2008. Like that one, this could be fairly characterized as being two acts of clever family banter, zinging around the stage.
It’s set in Spokane, and has plenty of local humor, including references to Gonzaga, Hoopfest and a running gag about Spokane “International” Airport.
This show picks up with the wedding of Chinelle Frobisher (one of three daughters in the Frobisher-Wolders blended family) to the bald Polish-American musician, Carey Krzyznyk.
In classic family sitcom style, the father of the bride is beleaguered by florist bills; the mother of the bride (stepmother, in this case) struggles unsuccessfully to keep everyone organized; and the bride’s siblings do their best to sow chaos.
McColm tightens the comedic tension with plenty of side plots. One member of the tribe has had drug problems, another announces he wants to join the Marines. Various irascible relatives show up, all threatening to drive everyone crazy. And, as in the first installment, there’s a surprise revelation that sheds a new and sobering light on the wedding preparations. Actually, two sobering revelations.
The main plotline, of course, revolves around the simple question: Will the wedding come off as planned?
Yet we in the audience are also wondering: How on earth will we get to see it?
The wedding is supposed to take place in a church, off-stage. Yet McColm manages, with a little bit of playwright sleight-of-hand, to give us the requisite “I do” moment on the play’s only set, the Frobisher living room.
It’s a bit contrived. In fact, my main complaint about the sequel is that a lot of the situations seem contrived. For instance, there’s McColm’s running gag about the family establishing a “safe word.” People are supposed to bellow this word if a family argument turns dangerous. This somewhat racy concept has a minor comic payoff, but the entire idea fails to pass the credibility test.
The other charges that could be leveled at this play are the same charges you can level at any family sitcom: It’s a little glib, a little predictable and a lot sentimental.
Yet these are the exact things that most people have loved about family comedies from “Eight Is Enough” to “Father of the Bride” to “Steel Magnolias.” The situations are familiar, the people are recognizable and we can relate.
The 11-person ensemble cast is strong throughout. Under McColm’s direction, they play well off each other and are quick with the comic banter. By about the halfway point, every character’s personality is clearly established, crucial in a show with so many characters.
Some of the best moments come from Andrew Scott Parish as the tough-yet-tender Roger Wolders, Bethany D. Hart as the free-spirited Sandra, Tamara Schupman as the organized but on-edge Audrey and Wendy Carroll as the exuberant Lina. The center of the play, however, remains McColm himself, who plays the father, Max.
McColm displays his usual fine, deadpan comic timing. As if being the playwright and director weren’t enough.
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