Playwright Abby Koenig draws on real-life experience in ‘Your Family Sucks’
by Donalevan Maines
Would you like to be on a TV game show? Come on down and match wits with strangers? Or react wildly when someone holds up a sign that says “Oooh, ahhh”?
If so, and for anyone who has dreamt of spinning the Wheel of Fortune or sparring in a Family Feud, Horse Head Theatre presents a new play, Your Family Sucks, by New York transplant Abby Koenig.
“It’s a dark comedy about a family just like yours,” says Koenig, who now lives in the Oak Forest neighborhood of Houston. “Mom is crazy, dad is a drunk, big sis is socially awkward, and little sister has an unhealthy obsession with the world’s biggest Heb-Pop [Hebrew-Pop] star.
“When the younger sister, Molly, discovers that her crush is an avid fan of a game show called Your Family Sucks, she just has to get her family on the show,” says Koenig. “And that’s when everything falls apart!”
It’s also the cue for audiences to join the fun. Horse Head Theatre revels in casting a ceremonial element into its productions, making the audience part of the action, as it did, for example, amid brusque and boisterous British soccer fans two years ago in Among the Thugs.
“The idea of this wild and zany game show being such a big part of the show sealed the deal,” says Kevin Holden, Horse Head’s creative director. Holden, who lives in Richmond and teaches theater at San Jacinto South, adds, “The game show will not only be a part of the universe of the play, but the audience will also be given the opportunity to participate as if they, too, were a part of this world. Willing—or unwilling—participants will be able to compete in various events throughout the performance.”
“Horse Head’s approach to theater is so unique, I can’t wait to see what they will do with the play,” says Koenig.
The show begins at 8 p.m., December 6–22. Audience members who arrive by 7:30 p.m. get first crack at competing on the game show, with videotape of the pre-show contests shown during the performance. For example, the audience sees segments on TV sets for sale at a store where the mother shops.
One of the perks of being a playwright is putting your husband’s name in your script—in Koenig’s case, pinning the name of “Rob Murphy” to the stud football star and big man on campus at the high school where older daughter Annie attends.
However, unbeknownst to her family, Annie likes Robertas more than Robs. Likewise, the playwright’s sister, Sarah, was a lesbian, who came out in their high school newspaper in Poughkeepise, New York.
“She was a junior, and I was her bratty little sister, fourteen or fifteen, a freshman,” says Koenig. “At the time, [her public coming out] was kind of devastating to me. I felt like it was an attack on me. But now I think of her as the bravest person in the world, and that was one of the bravest things, too.”
Koenig’s sister passed away three years ago in what the playwright describes as an accidental but deadly combination of medications. “It still seems like it didn’t even happen,” says Koenig. “As a writer, it’s almost like you can make people live on.
“I’m sad that she won’t be able to see it, and you hope that somehow she will, in hopes that it will show her how much I cared.”
Koenig also plays homage to her parents by making Annie and Molly’s father a pseudo-intellectual drunk and their mother manic-depressive. “Both of my parents had issues that were not really resolved until we were grown up,” allows Koenig. “Sometimes it was funny—my dad drank and my mother would be in a good mood today, then a bad mood, then a really bad mood. Finally, they got a divorce. That helped a lot.”
Gay fave Greg Dean plays the family patriarch, Joseph, with Melanie Martin as his wife, Elaine, Caroline Menefee of Alvin as Annie, and Reagan Lukefaht, who lives downtown, as Molly.
Ty Mahany is entrusted with the role of Chet Chetson, ringmaster of the TV game show. Among others in the cast are Abby Thompson as a precocious neighbor child, Midtown’s Matt Hune as Heb-Pop star Ronnie Horowitz, and Lyndsey Sweeny as a triumphant game show contestant.
Horse Head Theatre Company was created in 2009 to produce theater that attracts new audiences and to produce plays that have not previously been performed in Houston. Its mission is to re-energize Houston audiences and artists with theatrically designed experiences using local talent and non-traditional methods. Horse Head feels that going to the theater should stimulate an audience with as much passion, aliveness, and emotion as you would find at a major sporting event.
What: Your Family Sucks
When: December 6–22, 8 p.m. (pre-game show event, 7:30 p.m.)
Where: War’Hous Visual Studios, 4715 Main Street
Donalevan Maines also writes about Cathy Rigby in this issue of OutSmart magazine.