Perfectly Normel People
nytheatre.com review by Mel House
August 9, 2013
A scene from Perfectly Normel People
Meet Hadley Smith. An unassuming gentlemen in his 40‘s with a story to tell about his migration to New York City, and more importantly, the people that change his life forever. He takes us to 1981, when he was a Kansas innocent moving to the Big Apple to study at NYU. At eighteen the experience is no doubt overwhelming. But when campus housing doesn’t work out, he finds himself living in Forest Hills, Queens, with the very Italian-American Normellino family. Perfectly Normel People, written and directed by Thomas and Judy Heath, explores assumptions of normalcy in this nostalgic memoir-style comedy about finding oneself and making a home.
The entire design team has successfully created this particular world in 1980’s Queens--and oh, what a fun place to be. Set designers James Maguire, Christian Crum and Bronson Taylor, do an outstanding job collecting authentic feeling 1980’s living room and kitchen furniture, as well as a functional lime-green porch swing. Costumes by Janine McCabe pull us right into the 80‘s and are cause for a few good chuckles. Sound designer, Scott Cason, enhances the mood with Sinatra, the Ramones, Simon & Garfunkel and Led Zepplin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven.’
First we get a sense of where young Hadley (Bronson Taylor) comes from. Mom and Dad (Jaqualine Helmer & Scott Carson) are salt-of-the-earth Kansas farm people, excited and nervous to send their only son off to New York City. But on his first day he meets Rainbow (Katie Holland) and learns that he is homeless. He quickly finds a rental situation with a family in Queens--The Normellinos.
They are a stark contrast to his own family--imagine Lost in Yonkers meets the cast of Jersey Shore, only set in Forest Hills, Queens, circa 1981. There’s Connie, the family matriarch (played by Vicki Kelly). She’s a strong loving Italian-American mom who doesn’t accept any non-sense and shows her love with food. “Pops” Roma (Ross Magoulas) is her delightfully comic non-verbal father, who despite shuffling about, is much more then meets the eye. Johnny (Patrick Arheim) and Angie (Lara Allred), although young adults, still live at home and fight constantly. Cousin Frankie (Tripp Hamilton), who admits to not being so quick witted, is thankfully, good with his hands.
As Hadley settles into his new home, he begins to acclimate to this new culture. He meets the charming and beautiful girl next door, Bernadette (also Katie Holland), and finds he has someone that he can really connect with. He changes his hair, clothes and new phrases keep popping up in his everyday speech. When he discovers that all of the previous boarders have turned up dead, can he continue living with the Normellino’s?
Perfectly Normal People is funny and wholesome entertainment. If you’ve ever gone to the theatre and wished for a nice story, this is it. There’s not too much at stake, but there are plenty of laughs with a sweet surprise ending. It might just leave you thinking about what makes a family, and what, after all, is normal?