It’s Christmas Eve and the whole family is gathered around the tree, including mom, dad, aunts, uncles and a couple of guys who just robbed a liquor store at gunpoint.
“In-Laws, Outlaws and Other People (That Should Be Shot)” opens this Friday at Community Players in Beatrice. While it might not be your traditional Christmas story, the farce hits all the Yuletide high notes.
The show tells the story of the Douglas family who receive a knock at the door while they are preparing their Christmas Eve dinner. At the door, the family meets Tony and Vinny, two men who have just robbed a nearby store. They are on the run from the cops and are looking for a quiet place to hide.
A good hiding place isn't easy to come by, said Director Brandon Clark, as the Douglas family isn't exactly what you’d call serene.
“This is not a quiet family,” Clark said. “Or an easy to control family.”
But, if nothing else, the Douglas family is relatable, he said. For inspiration, Clark and the actors in the show drew on memories from family dinners and holiday get-togethers to create characters who the audience will recognize from their own lives, he said.
This is Clark’s first time directing a main stage production at Community Players. He directed the musical “First Date” for the theater’s young adult program for actors ages 16 to 24, but this is his first time directing a full, adult cast. Several years of studying theatrical production have prepared him for it, though, he said.
Clark’s been onstage, backstage, in the audience and in the light booth at Community Players, he said. Hanging lights, painting sets, stage managing and appearing on stage gave him a view of the process from several different perspectives, he said.
The set for “In-Laws” is quite a bit bigger than most other shows at Community Players and it expands all the way to the walls, which was necessary, Clark said.
“I'm happy where it's ended up at this point, because this is a really big set,” he said. “With my first show, that was only nine people, but this is a cast of 15 people, where by the end of it, all 15 are on stage at once, so you need that kind of stage space.”
The show contains a lot of the emotional tropes of a traditional Christmas show, said Jeff Porter, who plays the excitable robber Tony, but it’s definitely not “The Nutcracker,” and nobody’s sitting around waiting for Santa.
“It's very family-friendly,” Porter said. “It's a show where people can bring their kids, grandma and grandpa, whoever. It's funny and it's heartwarming at the end.”
“It's got a perfect ending,” added Bruce Hahn, who plays Uncle Leo. “We won't spoil it, but it's got a great ending.”
Hahn said he and Shelley Keebler, who plays his wife, Rose, modeled their characters somewhat after Edith and Archie Bunker from “All in the Family.” He said that, while there are 15 actors in the cast, everybody gets a solid part and a few sturdy laugh lines.
“It's so fun,” Hahn said. “It's a great ensemble piece. Everyone has their moment to shine. Throughout the process, people just keep coming in, but nobody leaves. Once they're on, they're on for the most part.”
The show runs for the next two weekends with Friday and Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for students.
During the Saturday night shows, there will be an incentive for audience members to embarrass themselves just a little, said Jamie Ulmer, managing artistic director at Community Players.
Anyone who shows up in an ugly Christmas sweater will get $1 off at the concession stand, he said, and the audience will decide whose sweater is the worst.
“At the intermission, the audience will get to vote on who has the ugliest Christmas sweater and that lucky person will win a Community Players t-shirt to cover the ugly sweater,” Ulmer said. “Everyone else must live with their shame.”
For most people, the Christmas season doesn’t start until the day after Thanksgiving, but for Clark and the cast, they’ve had to get into the Christmas spirit when they started rehearsing the show back in the middle of October.
Their Christmas spirit hasn't dampened yet, Clark said, but they could stand a break in the carols.
“Last weekend, I went to put all the sound cues together and I spent five hours listening to Christmas music,” he said. “At some point, they just all start sounding the same.”
Tickets for “In-Laws, Outlaws and Other People (That Should Be Shot)” are available at the Community Players box office at 412 Ella St. in Beatrice. Tickets may also be purchased by phone at 402-228-1801 or online.