By ERIN WEAVER
You know what they say: If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
Sitting in the dimly lit DCP Theatre in Lower Salford, two actors for the playhouse’s latest show, “Making God Laugh,” nod knowingly as fellow actor Brent Anders says, “The show is about how we make these plans, but that’s not where we end up. It’s so relevant to everyone — whether you’re in your 20s and making those plans, or 60 and realizing you didn’t end up where you planned—everyone makes plans, and then life happens.”
The actors themselves cover this spectrum. There’s Anders, a young bright-eyed actor who discusses his craft with grand gestures and a genuine, infectious laugh, and the gregarious but thoughtful Barb Hannevig, who plays the show’s matriarch Ruthie.
“Making God Laugh” follows the same family of five — Ruthie, her husband Bill and their three children, Richard, Maddie and Thomas — through four decades. Separated into four scenes, each 10 years apart, the play explores years of made and broken plans.
It is Hannevig who lights up on stage, portraying the gradual decline of a devout Catholic mother “who’s a total control freak,” she says. For anyone who grew up with a stern mother, she is reincarnated on stage with Hannevig’s performance.
“Ruthie loves her family, but she likes things her way,” Hannevig said.
When Ruthie’s plans for her family unravel, honest arguments erupt among the family — peppered with the quick quips and sarcastic jabs all families enlist to cope with difficulty.
Director Paul Dake has already worked on this play at another theatre, inspiring him to bring the family-based comedy/drama to Lower Salford.
“We all know this family and can relate to their silliness as well as their challenges. I’ve had the good fortune to be in communication with the playwright, Sean Grennan, and he shared his thoughts with me on how the play came to be written. His words were a terrific launching point for the cast as we began rehearsals,” Dake said.
Grennan described the show as his play where “the personal and professional intersect.” Getting the playwright’s insight has helped the cast develop the show and stay true to Grennan’s intentions, Dake said.
“There’s a saying in the writing game that eventually all playwrights have to write their “family” play. This is mine,” Grennan said. “But, while it’s a family show, it’s also a play that’s about the unexpected turns that life serves up; the plans we make and what actually happens. Coming from a family of six kids, I remember all kinds of plans and hopes that were passed around with the meatloaf and gravy. It’s been interesting to me, to see all these years later, which of these dreams took root, which faded away, and what ultimately is really important. I don’t know if this play answers all that, I mostly hope it’s funny, but I’ve tried to shoot for both.”
The play certainly has its comedic moments, especially when the children are younger and the future is brighter. The only daughter, Maddie, provides a lot of the comedic relief with her sarcasm.
“Maddie is truly the middle child,” actor Liz McDonald, who portrays Maddie, said. “She is always butting heads with her mom. She grew up with two brothers, so she’s had to develop some toughness to her.”
While Maddie most actively gives her Catholic mother a headache in the show, both of her brothers — Richard, who has an alcohol problem, and Thomas, a priest — upset Ruthie, too. Fittingly, by the end of the show, it is Ruthie who is giving her family trouble.
“The show is really funny at times, but it gives you heavy things to think about,” Hannevig said. “It’s very intricate. The audience is going to laugh, but they’re going to walk out with meat, with substance.”
A little more than a month into rehearsals, the cast itself functions like a bit of a family, heralding stage manager Keegan Peters as the one to keep the show on track and afloat.
While Peters modestly describes herself as the one who just keeps the show organized, the actors seem to know better.
“She’s a genius,” Anders said. “We’d be lost without her. She knows everything.”
“Shows like this are great because the audience can identify with this — it’s up-to-date. People will understand the references to things like Y2K, because they’ve lived it. It’s funny, with really beautiful, poignant moments,” Peter said. “It’s entertaining on one level, but intimate and empathic on another level.”
The show is especially intimate for Dake, who has included pieces of his original music that he wrote into the show.
“An additional creative challenge for me has been to compose original music to be used throughout the play. It had to be appropriate to the feeling and content of the story. I’ve written eight pieces of music that I’m quite proud of and feel will work quite well,” Dake said, adding that “Audiences will walk out of the theater feeling happy and moved. As it should be.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Making God Laugh”
WHEN: May 30-June 14
WHERE: DCP Theatre, 795 Ridge Road, Lower Salford.
TICKETS: Available for $15 at the door or online at www.dcptheatre.com; senior citizens and students are $13, and groups of 10 or more can contact the box office at (215) 234-0966.