Special Reports

Broadway’s 5 Most Horrifying Families to Spend the Holiday With

You think you’ve got it bad? You wouldn’t survive one meal around the dinner table with these theatrical wack-jobs.

Everyone has them: Nightmare relatives who make you consider a life of solitude in an Ashram just so you can avoid seeing them during the holidays. They drink too much, brag about how special their kids are, and love a good sideswipe of a comment about who you date/marry. But as we eat turkey and pass the potatoes with our own family crazies, let us all consider how much worse it would be to spend a single day, let alone a long weekend, with one of these famous theatrical families. We narrowed down the top five most horrifying (ranging from a tolerable Mamet-level of dysfunction to wanting to off yourself in the parlor, Hedda Gabler-style) stage clans and served them up, list-style.

Tracee Chimo and Michael Zegen duke it out in Joshua Harmon's <i>Bad Jews</i>.
Tracee Chimo and Michael Zegen duke it out in Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews.
(© Joan Marcus)


If you’d rather be force-fed kosher turkey stuffing than deal with a meal with your sniping extended family, be thankful you’re not stuck indoors with the squabbling, greedy cousins at the center of Joshua Harmon’s scary-funny comedy Bad Jews (currently off-Broadway at the Roundabout Underground). These foul-mouthed, foul-minded twentysomethings don’t see family tragedy as any reason to pull back from their daily exercises in eviscerating each other, even if their dead grandfather’s body has only just gone into the ground. A family of miserable vipers, the cousins will go after anything—your frizzy hair (um, pot, kettle, black), your cheapskate parents, your poor untalented opera singer girlfriend. And if you think you’re safe from verbal dismemberment when hiding in the bathroom, think again—no one escapes Bad Jew wrath, not even when they’re on the throne. Plus, when words fail there’s the physical fisticuffs…and nothing says “happy holidays” like blunt-force trauma to the face.


Everyone deals with unsolicited advice and judgment from their family, but no one has it worse than poor Catherine Sloper in Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s The Heiress. Her father, Dr. Austin Sloper, sits at the head of the crazy table when it comes to mental manipulation, hacking away at Catherine’s looks, wit, musical talent, choice in men, and ability to appreciate the city of Rome (seriously Dad?), and that’s when he’s not flat-out ranting about how she ruined his life when she killed her mother during childbirth. A collision in the hallway with this guy is like a long weekend at Guantanamo Bay, especially when you pile on his torturous threats about disinheriting his only daughter if she marries the man she loves. And don’t even get us started on the meddling widow aunt wandering around the house with a doily on her head rubbing salt in Catherine’s emotional wounds. Stumble into the Sloper’s for Thanksgiving and you’ve got yourself a holiday hangout where all anyone can do is suck it up and wait until Dad dies of consumption.


Speaking of Daddy issues: Did your father kill your mother (by feeding her milk flowers) because he didn’t want a second baby as ugly as you are? Did he then blame that death on you and your ugliness? Did he give your little sister designer pumps while you were stuck in a pair of black 1/2″ witch boots from Payless? If not, you’re doing better than Elphaba from the famed musical Wicked, whose family history is so full of manipulations and lies and death there’s no way you could survive it without a book of magic spells (and a devoted psychologist). Could you carry the burden of knowing your dead mom had an affair with a wizard while she was pregnant with you? Or get over how she drank a weird potion while pregnant that should have been labeled, “According to the Surgeon General, pregnant women should not drink wizard elixirs due to risk of green babies,” which ultimately made you a green baby, and then a green social pariah? Or cope with the fact your father ultimately died of shame because you are so weird? We didn’t think so. So be grateful for your own family this year. Even that drunk touchy-feely uncle who isn’t really your uncle.

A very fraught family dinner in Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning <i>August: Osage County</i>.
A very fraught family dinner in Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County.
(© Joan Marcus)


If your little sister isn’t sleeping with her half-brother and your pothead daughter does not have an affinity for sparking up with older men in upstairs bedrooms, then rest assured that getting together with your family won’t be half as bad as it would be for the Westons. The Weston family, who are the focus of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County, are all pulled back to their Oklahoma home when their drunk patriarch walks out on his pill-popping wife and never returns. (Has there ever been a more festive reason for a big turkey dinner than dad’s disappearance and increasingly probable suicide?) If your holiday doesn’t end with a physical altercation with your cancer-ridden mom or the molestation of your teenage daughter by her soon-to-be uncle, then you can count it as a success and get back to drinking yourself into a stupor and becoming your mother.

The Pollitt family gathers to celebrate Big Daddy's birthday in the 2008 revival of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning <i>Cat on a Hot Tin Roof</i>.
The Pollitt family gathers to celebrate Big Daddy’s birthday in the 2008 revival of Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
(© Joan Marcus)

1. Every Tennessee Williams play. Ever.

If you want to guarantee yourself a life in therapy, join any of Tennessee Williams’ familial creations for the holiday weekend. These people…we just…these people are horrible people. Yeah, yeah, subtext, situation, broken dreams, etc–no matter how you try to justify it the truth is this motley crew of awful human beings make the August: Osage County freak show look like The Waltons by comparison. Alcoholic and condescending aging southern belle sister and a rape-y husband? (A Streetcar Named Desire) Check. Overbearing manipulative mother so nuts she drives you into hiding in New Orleans? (The Glass Menagerie) Check. Screaming “no-necked” children shredding your clothes while their shrew mother makes ugly remarks about your husband’s possible homosexual tendencies? (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) Double check. Not to mention all the fringe drunks staring at you with their JUDGING EYES. Sure, you could hook yourself up to a slow-drip of Xanax and make it through dinner, but stay past the pumpkin pie and you risk not getting out alive. Your best bet is to hug your snarky, miserable aunt and thank your lucky stars Williams is too dead to rewrite any of the dialogue for your next family gathering.

Featured In This Story

Bad Jews

Closed: December 30, 2012

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Closed: March 30, 2013

The Heiress

Closed: February 9, 2013