Dysfunctional families are a staple of holiday fare. But Paula Vogel’s play about a fateful car ride home from grandmother’s house goes beyond the cliches. Set first in 1970, her story of a family of five tearing itself apart is told through narration and Bunraku puppetry until it fasts-forwards to the future, when the gay Stephen dies of AIDS, his lesbian sister loses her lover to another woman, and their heterosexual sister finds herself unhappily pregnant. Jason Loewith’s elegiac production for Next Theatre Company features Matthew J. York’s elegant, Japanese-inspired sliding-screen sets and Michael Montenegro’s lifelike puppets. Both wry and deeply sad, The Long Christmas Ride Home explores the ways we fail one another and ourselves by longing for someone else instead of loving the family we’re with. Through 12/11: Thu 7:30 PM, Fri-Sat 8 PM, and Sun 2 PM. Holiday schedule 11/24-11/27: Sat 2 and 8 PM and Sun 2 PM. Next Theatre Company, Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston, 847-475-1875, ext. 2, $25-$30.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Brosilow.