Sean Grennan says he's a little hesitant to admit that the premise of his newest stage work, "Making God Laugh," is autobiographical.
"There are certainly elements that are inspired by my family," said Grennan, referencing a less-than-popular traditional family gathering recipe included in the play as part of a plot punchline. (He's changed the recipe's name to Fantasia Dip for the play.)
"Actually, I like to think of many of the characters as composites."
He does admit the play's title is inspired by the Woody Allen joke: "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans."
It was unveiled last year for a test run in Wisconsin, and next week has its Chicago premiere with a run May 3 to June 10 at Theatre at the Center in Munster, produced in association with First Folio Theatre.
Directed by William Pullinsi, "Making God Laugh" stars Chicago favorites Peggy Roeder, Craig Spidle, Kevin McKillip, Joe Foust and the playwright's sister Erin Noel Grennan.
Adding to family reunion?
When Grennan, previously from Chicago but now living in New York with his actress wife Kathy Santen, travels to see his play performed in Munster next month, he'll bring their 87-year-old mother to watch sis step into her role.
"Making God Laugh" is a family comedy, following "empty nest" parents Jimmy, played by Spidle, and Ruthie, played by Roeder, as they welcome their children home over various holidays.
The story spans different decades during the two-hour stretch so the audience can experience the family as it grows and changes, starting with Thanksgiving 1980. It begins with all of the couple's children returning home and talking about their professional paths, with one now a priest, another an aspiring actress and the third a former football player.
As the audience learns of plans and dreams, the plot unfolds to share the next 30 years of life moments, while fast forwarding to Christmas 1990 and then New Year's Eve 2000 before concluding with a present time Easter.
"At times, it's a play that's hilarious, and other times touching," said Grennan, who is also the man behind Theatre at the Center's holiday stage offering from earlier this season called "Another Night Before Christmas."
McKillip, who plays the son following his priestly calling, describes "Making God Laugh" as a play with "both humor and a message of warmth."
He first saw the play last year during its inaugural run while he was performing in another production at the same theater in Wisconsin
"We've had fun with just the costumes, since the characters' wardrobes change with the times," said McKillip, whose learned to appreciate his black priestly collar.
"I also love the story Sean's play shares, about the importance of family. It's a message that always remains the same throughout the decades, no matter how much change seems to happen or how fast the time flies by."