Theater archives



A door, three tables, a large number of loudly clattering plates, and an even larger number of hopelessly entangled family relationships comprise the substance of writer-director Ain Gordon’s The Epic Family Epic, or the Hell Family Supper, a piece as resonant, self-evident, and cheerfully arch as its title. Vaguely resembling Paula Vogel’s recent Long Christmas Ride Home, Gordon’s rework of his 1988 piece steers a structuralist middle course between Thornton Wilder’s archetypal Long Christmas Dinner and Vogel’s half-sardonic, half-plaintive modernist riposte to it. Deaf and hearing actors commingle, alternating sign with speech, to parse out the crisscrossings at an endless, generation-jumping holiday meal. The young become versions of their elders even as they try to dodge the burden of misremembered tradition.

The rompish tone occasionally turns laborious (even preachy toward the end), but Gordon’s knack for twisting both familiar phrases and the visual frame out of kilter sustains the familiar familial shenanigans for a jolly 85 minutes. The cast keeps up the jovial tone skillfully, especially Jayne Houdyshell as everybody’s domineering aunt and Valda Setterfield (Gordon’s real-life mother) as a bell-skirted choric figure who turns out to be an estranged relative of this lineal lunacy, as are we all.