A brand-new play from University of Wyoming playwright William Missouri Downs tackles the tension that can arise between family members in close confines during the holiday season.
“How to Survive Your Family at Christmas” is scheduled to play at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5-7 and 12-14 at the Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts Main Stage, presented by the Department of Theatre and Dance. Tickets are $14 for the general public, $11 for seniors and $7 for students.
Directed by UW junior Sariah Durrant, “How to Survive Your Family at Christmas” is being produced for the first time except for a simultaneous run elsewhere. Downs, a UW professor, is a comedy writer, playwright, screenwriter, stage director and author who has had his work produced hundreds of times in 12 countries.
“I wanted to write a play about how difficult it is for families to get together and act like they like each other, and the time they have to do that is Christmas,” he said.
The play follows Harvard student Loretta Nutt, who hasn’t been home in two years because she has nothing in common with her blue-collar parents. Though she hoped she’d never return home again, her law-student boyfriend wants to meet her parents.
“As a playwright, I’ve always felt that I was born into the wrong time, the wrong place and the wrong family, and I think a lot of people feel that way,” Downs said.
In an unusual twist, Downs has ceded direction of the play to Durrant, whom he met on the set of his last UW production, “Below the Navel, Above the Knees.”
“I was watching the production, and Bill asked me to give notes,” she said. “It was one note, and he turned to me and asked, ‘Would you like to direct my next show with me?’”
Downs said Durrant is a natural director, and the comment she gave him was brilliant.
“I suddenly realized that her future is in directing,” he said. “Originally, we thought we’d co-direct, but within a few days I realized that Sariah had it, and I could step back and let her take the reins.”
The two have a 44-year age difference, he pointed out, but their collaboration has made his job easy.
“We have disagreements, but she has this amazing ability to make sure that the playwright’s taken care of,” he said. “She’s very at compromising and very good at standing her ground and saying no we have to do it this way, and I’ve found that 9 times out of 10, she’s right.”
Durrant comes from a large family in which all six of her siblings sing, act and perform. Her mother performed on the UW stage 20 years ago, when she was pregnant with Durrant.
She said the family-friendly production features uplifting scenes, moments of heartbreak and plenty of physical comedy.
“These performers have been putting their whole soul into this performance, and it’s absolutely wonderful to be a part of,” she said.
Downs said the production offers a needed laugh during a busy, stressful season. At the same time, it reminds audiences that spending time with family is important.
“I think the key to family is forgiveness, and this is a play about forgiveness,” he said. “I think that’s critical at Christmastime.”