Fringe Festival

KC Fringe | Drugs, munchies, fractious family key new comedy

Talia and Natalie Liccardello, sister playwrights, have made the most of a comic premise that was too good to fail: A family intervention deteriorates into name-calling, guilt-tripping, Xanax-popping, pot-smoking and binge-eating chaos.

Natalie Liccardello, well-known as an actress in Kansas City, co-directs “Ice Cream Social ... Issues” with Warren Deckert. On Saturday, the second night of KC Fringe, they attracted a sizable crowd to the Unicorn Theatre. The audience seemed to appreciate the one-act play’s harsh, absurdist humor.

A strong cast captures the best the material offers in a Fringe production with the most minimal of minimal production values. Pat (Manon Halliburton) has organized an “ice cream social” in a church basement, which is actually a set-up for an intervention to save her nephew Jordan (Maxwell Frederickson), who is a heroin addict. Pat has control issues, to put it mildly.

She’s dragged along her two daughters, Maria (Hannah Cowger) and Lauren (Meredith Wolfe), who are less interested in “saving” their cousin than getting high. Also in the mix is Jordan’s mom, Jen (Karla M. Fennick), who tears into a bag of potato chips as soon as she arrives. And Jordan’s grandfather, Pop Pop (Ari Bavel), makes an appearance with a bottle of liquor and his decades-younger Australian secretary, Shelly (Danelle Drury).

The problem with Pat’s plan is that Jordan is nowhere to be seen. The ice cream begins melting, so eventually Pat is reduced to reading the letter she intended for Jordan to an empty chair. Pop Pop has his own gruff letter to read, but he’s impatient to get to a dinner reservation with Shelly.

Pat pops Xanax like she was eating M&Ms, and she shares her prescription pills with Jen, whose reaction is amusingly extreme. Pop Pop drinks liberally to get through the experience. And eventually Shelly takes each member of this crazed dysfunctional family to task.

The Saturday night performance really clicked and the actors’ timing was pretty much on the money. Halliburton delivers a smartly executed performance as the unhappy Pat. Indeed, Halliburton sets the bar for the entire cast.

Wolfe and Cowger are hilarious as two sisters who refuse to take the intervention or anyone in the room seriously. Fennick gives us a superior comic performance as Jen. Bavel is effective with his casual delivery and Drury demonstrates explosive comic energy before the final curtain.

Natalie Liccardello got my attention last year with her salacious farce, “Pies From the Porn Kitchen,” and in this piece she and her sister rise to the next level with an unforgiving sense of humor that cuts deep.

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