Deck the Hallmans!
nytheatre.com review by Lucile Scott
December 9, 2009
Deck the Hallmans! is a shenanigan-filled improvised holiday tale produced by Ten Directions that weaves audience suggestions about their own families and Christmases past into the Hallmans' holiday, which, like the holiday season for many of us, is an event rife with tension and bits of unresolved antipathy towards various family members. But as this is the Fight Fest, the Hallmans express their anger in a far more physical fashion than most of us, and, yes, nearly every Hallman does indeed get decked.
The premise is clever and the ensemble cast is strong. Standouts among them are the director Audrey Crabtree, appearing as a narrating security guard named Dave who takes suggestions from and frisks the audience; Robert Honeywell as the self-satisfied patriarch, Bob Hallman; and Moira Stone as his nervous wife, Carol Hallman. While comically exaggerated, the tensions and issues amongst the family members feel nuanced and real, like Margaret Hallman, the grandmother (Iracel Rivero), doting on and caring for her irresponsible artist child while taking the dutiful Carol, who cares for her in her stable suburban home, for granted. The running gags, from a mysterious croaking gift to one actress being cast as both of the Hallmans' 13-year-old twins Chris and Chrissy, are effective and amusing.
However, the show feels rough and while the improv taken from audience suggestions is entertaining, it does not provide enough stakes or plot to really sustain an hour-and-15 minute play. And while there are fights aplenty—including an especially inventive one in which the nurse Xolo (Jonathan Kaplan) attempts to dress a resisting Grandma in her Christmas sweater—they sometimes lack polish. The actors seem more invested in the ridiculousness of the fights than in the fact that they are supposedly mad, and the moves therefore lack believability, which reduces some of the resulting satisfaction the audience can glean from watching gratuitous stage combat.