I’m an unabashed fan of beautifully crafted dysfunctional family dramedies, and Sukkot, a new play by Matthew Leavitt, delivers big time. The laughs are so consistent, the characters so well-defined, the emotional arc so satisfying that the entire experience drives toward its inevitable standing ovation.
The cast, impeccably guided by big-name stage and screen director Joel Zwick, is convincing as a family with deep rifts in its foundation of love. The family consists of father Patrick Sullivan (Andy Robinson), son Asher (Jonathan Slavin) and daughters Mairead (Liza Seneca) and Eden (Natalie Lander). Their wife and mother has been dead a year.
Patrick’s not Jewish, but when Sukkot opens, he’s on the phone with a rabbi talking traditions: headstone unveiling and a holiday Patrick tells his children no one has ever heard of. He decides he’ll build a sukkah to honor his late wife and have his children sleep in it.
Asher is already living at home and not enthusiastic about moving outdoors. His sisters, returning to their childhood home from their own lives, are even less so. They are confused by the description of a holiday that requires rejoicing, as well as a sukkah that features pinecones and Christmas lights.
I began to play a mental drinking game whenever Patrick exclaimed or mentioned “Jesus!” and would have been passed out on the floor by the end of the play if the drink had been real. The clash of religions, in a family where religion played a minor role, perfectly suits the family dynamic.
The children are archetypes: the depressed failure who has returned to live at home, the serious overachiever—a doctor—who long ago moved away, and the flighty and ethereal free spirit. They battle and console each other in hilarious and riveting ways.
Sukkot, a world premiere, is produced by The 6th Act and performed at Skylight Theatre. It’s a smart, moving, feel-good time with lines you’ll leave quoting, exemplary direction and acting, and a family that is unique but universal.
Sukkot runs through Feb. 4 at Skylight Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont Ave. in Los Feliz. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 3:00 and 7:00pm through Feb. 4. Tickets are $35 and are available here.