James Wirt, Katie Webber, Kevin O'Donnell, and Brandi Nicole Wilson in <i>Let's Kill Grandma This Christmas</i>
James Wirt, Katie Webber, Kevin O'Donnell, and Brandi Nicole Wilson in Let's Kill Grandma This Christmas
(© Ben Hider)
If only the play were as awesomely intriguing as the title.

Because, let's face it, Let's Kill Grandma This Christmas, now at the Theatre at St. Clement's, is such a brilliant, incendiary title that it's doubly disappointing that playwright Brian Gianci relies solely on foul language, surprisingly gross sex talk, and the initial titters that stem from hearing an 80-year-old woman scream "c**k" to try to gain laughs, instead of genuinely funny writing.

The titular Grandma is Cathy (Roxie Lucas), a foul-mouthed, politically incorrect 80-year-old celebrating her December 25 birth with her granddaughters and their spouses. Despite being told by her doctor that she has the body of a 50-year-old, Grandma Cathy is preparing, as many 80-year-olds do, for her death. In her will, she has left granddaughter Jen (Brandi Nicole Wilson) her ugly, messy house (ornately designed by Harry Feiner), while Jen's vapid, entitled sister, Leigh (Katie Webber), will be the recipient of $2.2 million.

Jen has been driven to blatant alcoholism by her hatred for her grandmother, sister, and good-for-nothing, jobless husband Brett (Kevin O'Donnell). Still, Brett has one surely foolproof idea up his sleeve (that he won't tell his wife): expedite the process of grandma's death so they can reap the benefits. Rather than get his own hands dirty, he convinces Leigh's geeky, doormat of a husband Carl (James Wirt) to do it.

Once Gianci throws extra-marital affairs, rat poison, reefer, and Brett's wheelchair-bound, Afghanistan veteran brother Ray (Adam Mucci) into the mix, the plot gets even more convoluted. The strained direction by co-producer James Dapolito, which is basically limited to having the cast push as hard as they can to hammer home that the lines are supposed to be funny, isn' t beneficial.

Still, the cast members are game to get dirty, even when the fetching Webber and the appropriately blustery O'Donnell are trapped in an extended conversation about her tight nether regions and his diminutive downstairs area. (This is supposed to funny because all sex talk is funny!)

It's hard to say who made the choice for Wirt to play Leigh's sad sack, put-upon husband as a nasal- voiced nerd in big glasses, as opposed to just a sad sack, put-upon husband, but it turns out to be the wrong one. And despite a big-hearted performance from the endearing Mucci, this supposedly comic character becomes borderline offensive very quickly.

Lucas and Wilson also do nice work, especially in a second act breakthrough, when, grandmother and granddaughter finally see eye-to-eye in the heat of an argument. It was the first and only occasion in the play where the emotions being portrayed were not only sincere, but believable. Unfortunately, it's way too little, way too late.

To paraphrase Edmund Kean, dying might be easy (well, not in this case), but comedy is clearly a lot harder than it looks.