You really can’t go home again in the dark family comedy Straight Faced Lies at the New York International Fringe Festival. Cathy Ryan (Geraldine Librandi) and her two grown children, Melissa (Dana Domenick) and James (Jacob Thompson), don’t like each other very much. Ever since their dad, Mark, got sent to prison, the gulf between the three has grown ever wider. Mark is supposedly coming home on Thanksgiving and Cathy is determined to make it a special one, even if it means having to beg her estranged daughter to come home. When we meet Melissa, she is deep in the throes of passion with Joe (Joey Collins), an academic type, what we’d call “a nice guy.” She’s determined to keep things casual with Joe, who is smitten with the commitment-phobic Melissa. Joe begs Melissa to take him home to meet her mother and newly released father. Melissa reluctantly agrees, if only out of curiosity to see her dad again after so many years.
Adding to the skewed family dynamic is Cathy’s sister, Marie (Cindy Marchionda), a smack-talking, man-eating, martini-swilling free spirit who can’t seem to settle down ever since her beloved husband died from cancer. Her latest boyfriend has thrown her to the curb and she’s taking refuge with her older sister, who disapproves of Marie’s un-Christian lifestyle. Now bitter, Marie can’t stop her loose mouth from spilling everyone’s secrets.
Not helping matters is the fact that James is firmly in the closet despite his lover Kip’s (Curtis Wiley) insistence that he finally come out to his mother, with whom he lives and provides for. James is equally determined to keep his mother in the dark, fearing her judgment. James is not entirely without cause; he suffers a bit of an arrested development, still taking criticism from his mother about his clothing, his job, and every other little thing she picks up on. When Kip unexpectedly shows up at the Ryan’s house (he’s a good friend of the family), James’ internal struggle is finally put to the test.
Writer Mark Jason Williams has crafted a play full of acerbic wit, biting comebacks, and plenty of family backstabbing. It’s also pretty funny. Director Andrew Block has coaxed some great performances from his actors, turning them into one unhappy family you’d rather not share a Thanksgiving table with.