Allie Bailey, director of “A Nice Family Christmas,” faces a tall task: How can she turn seven strangers into a multi-generational family that’s known each other for decades?
The mannerisms, the arguing, the compassion for each other—it’s something that’s nearly impossible to accomplish in a little more than a month’s time.
Yet, with Limelight by South Valley Civic Theatre’s holiday performance set to open Nov. 26, Bailey, the cast and crew have achieved such a feat.
Bailey, who has worked as an organizer for corporate events, put her experience to the test. Throughout the rehearsals, which began in mid-October, she organized various team-building exercises and games to build a bond between the actors so they can feel comfortable with one another on stage.
The effectiveness of these exercises is easy to spot. During a recent rehearsal, Bailey chose Justin Kerekes, who plays Carl in the show, to be interviewed by this reporter. As Kerekes broke away from a scene, Karyn Morton, who plays Carl’s sister Stacy, let out a laugh, as if teasing him for being chosen.
In true sibling fashion, Kerekes turned the tide on Morton, and dragged her into the interview as payback for her mockery.
“This is a wholesome dysfunctional family,” Bailey said. “This family cares about each other. They all have their issues, but you really see that they love each other. There’s a lot of sarcasm and ribbing and a lot of growth. There’s no real intent for harm or cruelty.”
Morton said the cast has been “having a lot of fun in rehearsals.”
“Everyone’s been very friendly,” Morton said. “Allie wanted us to feel like a family.”
“A Nice Family Christmas” follows Carl, a young newspaper reporter. On Christmas Eve, Carl, who is on the brink of being fired, has been assigned a story about his family’s Christmas as a last-ditch effort to prove himself.
He goes home to his recently widowed mother, his loopy uncle, his eccentric grandmother and his argumentative siblings. However, when his family learns that he is taking notes on them for his article, “the fruitcake hits the fan,” the show’s description reads.
Bailey, who is the production manager at Los Altos Stage Company, has been directing in the Bay Area since 2013. This is her first time directing for Limelight.
“This is a fun new theater,” Bailey said, noting the thrust stage that was installed inside the Gilroy Center for the Arts recently, where Limelight performs. “The people are great, and there is a very exciting and engaged community aspect.”
Indeed, the thrust stage layout, which made its debut in September with the opening of “Ripcord,” allows the audience to be seated cabaret-style at small tables on three sides of the action. As such, the crowd can feel like they are in the living room with the family, Bailey said, as the actors engage in rapid-fire dialogue around a food-filled table.
Attendees are invited to bring their own dinner to the show, which is a staple of Limelight performances. All audience members, as well as cast and staff, must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Kerekes, who has worked with Bailey in the past, said this is the first time he’s performed with Limelight and the rest of the cast.
“People have been super warm and inviting,” he said. “It’s a fantastic environment. I love the space. I’ve never worked in a space that has such a big thrust. I’m interested to see how that dynamic works in a live performance.”
Bailey said she is thrilled that live theater is “back with a vengeance” after a year-and-a-half of cancellations and virtual performances due to the pandemic.
“There’s nothing like the magic of live theater,” she said. “We want to feel connected to one another, and one way to connect is to go to live theater. This is such an intimate venue. You get the opportunity to really connect and celebrate the spirit of the holidays.”
“A Nice Family Christmas” runs Fridays through Sundays from Nov. 26-Dec. 18 at the Gilroy Center for the Arts, 7341 Monterey St. Tickets are $25. For information, visit svct.org/2021_family.