Home For the Dysfunctional Family: Skirting the Edges of Bawdy With a Christmas Comedy

The set-up:

The Houston-born best-selling motivational speaker, John Bradshaw, once wrote that 80 percent of families were dysfunctional, but later corrected this to 100 percent. This dismal statistic is treated with light-hearted humor as two actresses with operatic voices take us through some of the holiday pitfalls, assisted by a piano-player who does a lot more than tinkle the ivories. The execution:

There is no set to speak of, but an almost bare stage can barely contain the exuberance of Julia Kay Laskowski and Patti Rabaza, as they create the characters of Mavis Applebee (that's Julia) and Myrtle McGillicurdle (that's Patti), and convince us instantly that these are old friends who know each other's secrets - and strengths. One of the strengths is unflagging good humor, and if Mavis has to hide everything with 2 percent alcohol, including Listerine, from a visiting aunt, well, that's not the end of the world, is it? Julia and Patti also briefly portray two young-uns, Agnes and Henriette, who have changed their names to Tiffany and Buffy - we see them at a mall, naturally. I use the first names of the actors because informality is the order-of-the-day, and I am happy to fall in line.

One of the longer skits has Patti creating a rehabilitation facility titled "From Slut to Saint", and here Julia re-enters as Candy LaRue, pole dancer. Or, rather, the breastworks of Julia enter first, aided by an astonishing uplift-and-push-out bra, followed a moment later by Julia herself - understatement is not the theme of the evening. This also is good-hearted entertainment, skirting the edges of bawdy but never quite falling off that cliff.

The piano accompaniment is provided by local playwright and composer Daryl Banner, who also serves as cheerleader, and on occasion joins in the general festivities himself, displaying an elfin charm and some fancy footwork. One section on film covers for a costume change, but falls short of the usual hijinks, and might better be served by providing Daryl with a solo comedic skit - he seems more than up to it.

There are songs, some Christmas classics, some with variations on the lyrics, and both Julia and Patti more than do them justice - the walls come close to shaking when Julia unleashes her vocal chords - she sang the title role of Always...Patsy Cline for 18 months. Michael Tapley is the director and choreographer, and he keeps the pacing brisk, and the movements flowing, and has added wit and humor - moments such as Daryl springing from his piano seat to portray, astonishingly, a dying swan.

Julia and Patti have great comic timing, and are expressive actors stopping well short of mugging, and they are also the writers. They appeared earlier this year at Theater LaB in Country Gravy and Other Obsessions, also written by them, and portraying the same characters. The current offering is a world premiere, but I have an inkling it may become an annual event on Houston stages.

The verdict:

Comfort entertainment for the holidays comes early to Houston, as good-natured humor and deft comic timing bring good cheer and flashes of wit to a world premiere that promises to be a perennial.

Home for the Dysfunctional Family Holidays! continues through December 2 at Theater LaB Houston, 1706 Alamo St. For ticketing or information, call 713-868-7516 or contact www.theaterlabhouston.com.

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