Every family on earth is a little bit crazy. It’s the guiding principle behind films like Meet the Fockers and August: Osage County. Even if your family reunions are relatively normal, everybody at least has that one weird uncle or quirky grandma who insists on bringing inedible food to Thanksgiving dinner.
Still, some families are more extreme than others, especially when addiction and/or mental illness enter the picture. Dear Dad is comedian Louie Anderson’s family story, focusing on memories of his alcoholic father. The show is his first attempt at a stage adaptation of his popular 1989 memoir by the same name. A.C.T.’s Strand Theater is giving Anderson the opportunity to workshop his show in front of live audiences as part of its @TheStrand series.
The show is still in the rough stages and has a long way to go, but the core of the story Anderson tells is worth seeing. As it stands, the one-man-show has a loose structure based on visits from the authorities and growing up with his father. The strongest moments in the show are based around Anderson’s performance, particularly his vocalizations. Anderson mimics his father’s harumphs and grumbles to great comedic effect, interspersed with his mother’s responding sighs.
The second two thirds of the show tell Anderson’s compelling story of interactions with his father. Each scene in the latter parts of the show is tightly written and well performed but their connections and the overall flow of the show doesn’t always feel right or even fully intentional. It feels like Anderson just really wants to tell the audience a bunch of stories from his childhood that don’t necessarily relate or make sense together. They each paint a picture of who he and his dad were as individuals and a family, but don’t always tell a complete story.
The first third of the show is the weakest section. It is necessary to introduce the audience to young Louie’s world, his parents and his ten siblings. However, the introductions are confusing and too long, losing the audience’s attention because their importance to the story hasn’t yet been revealed. The show simply takes too long to really start. Although the material is thoughtful and often funny, the audience’s attention starts to drift away before Anderson gets to the meat of his story.
Oddly, the end of the show has the opposite problem. It ends abruptly before the audience has time to process the surprising revelations in the last scene. It can be difficult with any true story to stay true to the facts while still shaping them into a narrative that is interesting and makes a lasting impression. One of the trickiest elements is giving the audience the opportunity to absorb the information you give them. Louie Anderson’s Dear Dad could benefit from an extra scene or moment of conversation with the audience at the very end. Hopefully this change will be made in the near future, because right now, the ending is just dropping a bomb on the audience and drawing the curtain.
Dear Dad is playing at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater at 1127 Market Street, San Francisco from January 10-14, 2018. The show is 90 minutes long with no intermission. Tickets run $25—$55.