'Making God Laugh' spends 30 years with a family

Saturday, 07 October 2017, 07:42:35 PM. 'Making God Laugh' runs Oct. 13-Nov. 5 at Steel Beam Theatre in St Charles.

Life rarely turns out as planned.

Just look at Ruthie and Bill, and their three adult children.

Audiences get to know the family over a course of 30 years in "Making God Laugh," which runs Oct. 13-Nov. 5 at Steel Beam Theatre in St Charles. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 3 p.m. Sundays.

"It is a comedy, but a comedy with heart," Director Richard Pahl said. "Hopefully the audience will be laughing hysterically and perhaps be a little teary eyed here and there."

"It's about family," he said. "It's about your hopes and dreams and plans for yourself or your kids, and then what actually happens."

Written by Oak Park native Sean Grennan, the play starts by introducing the audience to the new empty nesters and their "just launched" children — a priest, an aspiring actress and a former star football player. The year is 1980. They catch up with them again in the 1990s, then in 1999 and 2010 — each time on a different holiday.

"That's part of the enjoyment for the audience is the references, the things in each decade," Pahl said. "That's really an enjoyable part of the show. Remembering those bad fashion choices we all made."

The audience gets to see the characters mature and age emotionally.

"It's a great play for five actors. They get to age through three decades. It's terrific that way," Pahl said. "They all run into roadblocks and big changes in their lives, and get to play that out on stage."

The action takes place in the living room of the family's home, its location unspecified.

"The playwright doesn't indicate specifically," Pahl said. "But I'm convinced it's a Midwestern setting. I'm convinced he thinks of it as Chicagoland. They refer to people that live on each coast, so that makes me believe it's definitely a Midwest play."

The show is two acts and runs about two and a half hours, with intermission. The play is appropriate for all ages, Pahl said.

"I think it's something anybody that's ever been part of a family would appreciate," he said. "I don't believe there's anything offensive to anybody in this."

The cast of five draws from throughout the Chicago area, and beyond, with actors from Arlington Heights, Cary, Pontiac, Lombard and Aurora.

"Fortunately, Steel Beam draws quality actors from a distance away, which is nice for directors," Pahl said.

The cast, he said, is a really dedicated group of actors, who are "breaking down the script and getting through it very quickly."

The characters have a lot of backstory, Pahl said.

"They have a lot of interesting stuff going on in relationships and in the past," he said. "Fortunately, we have had access to the playwright along the way. So if the actors have questions or are curious about stuff that we can't figure out or explore, we are able to get input right from the playwright, which has been fun."

While conversations with the playwright are not unusual when it's a new play or a play reading, it's rare when the play has previously been produced. "Making God Laugh" had its world premiere in 2011.

Pahl, who is from Elgin, previously directed other productions at Steel Beam, including 2015's "Ordinary Days."

"I was very excited to be asked to direct this show because it's kind of near and dear to my heart," Pahl said. "I really love those shows that have you laughing, and have you feeling a little emotional."

"Making God Laugh" is part of Steel Beam's 17th season, which focuses on journeys of people make through life.

"It's a very full, theatrical experience," Pahl said.

With the scenes taking place on various holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Easter — it is happening at an intensely emotional times in life.

"I was driving home from rehearsal and comparing it sort of to 'This Is Us,' because you're seeing this family at very different parts of their lives and deal with big things that come up," he said.

The Emmy-winning NBC television show "This Is Us" tells the story in both present day, and through flashbacks.

Kathy Cichon is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.

'Making God Laugh'

When: Oct. 13-Nov. 5

Where: Steel Beam Theatre, 111 W. Main St., St. Charles

Tickets: $28 adult; $25 senior; $23 student

Information: 630-587-8521;

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