SALT LAKE CITY — Families are as wonderful as you make them, a fact which The Byron Five demonstrates perfectly. Written by Max Huftalin and directed by Tristan Johnson, this Fringe production from Company of Cohorts was an enjoyable and relatable show about five siblings coming together for a funeral.
The play starts with the eldest sibling, Liz (played by Michelle Thompson), coming home to find her aged father has passed away. This starts a string of phone calls, as Liz tells her closest sister, Catherine (played by Carlie Young), who shares it with Kip (played by Huftalin) who offers to call the twins. Fitz (played by Jaiden Castleton) answers, but his sister, Joan (played by Suni Gigliotti) does not. The four get together at home, Fitz bringing his girlfriend (played by Louise Dapper), whom he is overly clingy with, and the siblings begin to catch up and prepare for the funeral. Card games, snacking, and playfulness ensue. But when Joan shows up old feuds return, as her rebellious and disrespectful attitude complicate in the proceedings.
Huftalin can effectively create distinguished characters with strong personalities. I thought Liz’s strong stance was an effective display of her constant perfection, which was so typical of many people in my life. It was interesting to see the others, like Catherine, trying to be themselves and yet please Liz’s demand for control. I also appreciated the difference when Joan showed up and was the complete opposite of everything Liz stood for, which created for a great debate on what mattered. When the sisters finally got to the heart of what they cared about and found it was love for each other, I melted, wishing people could just start there instead of having to submit or rebel in interactions with each other.
Johnson directed the funeral service well, and I appreciated how he had his actors stand in a line facing the audience and have them respond to the invisible passers by so the audience could see each actor’s expressions and reactions. Another nice bit of blocking was how Gigliotti at the end of the line was able to get away with some things because her bossy sister was the furthest away.
By the end of the show, I hurt for the family as they finally felt love and came to new understandings about each other. The story was also significant because the death of someone can bring a family together. Their father’s death was a way for the siblings to grow, as Liz finally learned to accept her sister for who she is and Kip opened up about his feelings after seeming so aloof. I enjoyed The Byron Five, and it was one of the great shows at this year’s Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival.