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'A Nice Family Gathering' Sept. 7-23

"A Nice Family Gathering," a poignant comedy by Phil Olson, will be performed Sept. 7-23 on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. as well as Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at The Phipps Center for the Arts.

Director Gorden Hedahl has written "A Nice Family Christmas" and a series of "Don't Hug Me" musicals, including "Don't Hug Me," "Don't Hug Me Christmas Carol," "Don't Hug Me County Fair," and "Don't Hug Me, I'm Pregnant." Among his award-winning plays, seven take place in small towns in Minnesota. One of these is the current Phipps production.

Set in Prior Lake, the play revolves around the Lundeen family's first gathering since Dad passed away. NPR described the show as, "Garrison Keillor meets 'Topper' by way of 'Fargo.'" Dad, portrayed by Jon Aton of New Richmond, is a spirit who is only seen by his son, Carl, played by Austin Vockrodt Lee of Crystal. Dad wants Carl to tell his mother, portrayed by Sarah Eschweiler of Minneapolis, that he loved her. Carl is hesitant to comply for several reasons. Dad refuses to "move on" until his favor is granted.

Oldest son, Michael, played by Danny Vopava of St. Paul, is a physician who is struggling with his wife Jill's overspending addiction as a way of dealing with her infertility. Jill is portrayed by Toni Trussoni from Falcon Heights, Minn. Stacy, the remaining Lundeen family member, who everyone forgets about, is played by Karen Biedermann of St. Paul. Stacy's secrets finally force the family to acknowledge her. Rounding out the cast is the neighbor, Jerry, played by Wes McClain of Roseville, Minn., who comes to dinner as Mom's date, much to Dad's dismay. "Almost all of us also have families with some unique qualities and interactions," says the director.

Technical director Mark C. Koski creates a charming setting for this family affair based on the scenic design of Jay Ganz. The lighting designer is Bill Larsen, the costume designer is Nancy Miller, the prop designer is Sara Kessler, and the sound designer is Kassia Lisinski. Jeff Musch serves as the stage manager.

Hedahl, a frequent director at The Phipps, claims, "The 'Minnesota nice' approach to life will be familiar. I identify strongly with many of the moments and characters in the show and I love the mix of humor and touching emotion that the show creates."

Tickets are $26 for adults and $19 for students of any age, with a $2 discount for seniors on the Sunday matinees. Reservations may be made by contacting The Phipps ticket office at 715.386.8409 or online at ThePhipps.org. The Phipps Center is 20 miles from St. Paul.

An American Sign Language-interpreted performance will be given on Sunday, Sept. 23 at 2:30 p.m. Interpreter Elizabeth Bonderson has performed on The Phipps stage as an actor and a member of the Festival Chorus. Interested patrons should contact info@ThePhipps.org to make reservations.

Champagne brunch cruise and theater packages are available for the Sunday matinees. Reservations may be made by contacting Afton-Hudson Cruise Lines at 651-436-8883 or online at AftonHouseInn.com.

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