Talented ensemble showcases endearing holiday play
|Northlight Theatre presents|
Review by Katy Walsh
Christmas is about family! People, with maybe no more in common than shared DNA, gathering together in celebration. Dates, divorces, deaths and births constantly redefine the guest list, but forced relational interface is a certainty. When my aunt got divorced in the seventies, my mom knew Mary Catherine’s first holiday would be hard. To distract her from holiday angst even just momentarily, mom devised a new tradition. She purchased the “Twelve Days of Christmas” glasses…two sets. Following the meal, the family would take a moment and sing that song. The custom, now in its 35th+ year, has brought its own comedy and drama. We are not the Von Trapps so getting through the song is always a screech! It has brought the family closer together in nonmusical harmonious discord. Now, we set aside our annual political disagreements and life differences. We finally have something in common… a mutual desire for a higher numbered glass.
Northlight Theatre presents Season’s Greetings. It’s just a typical family Christmas gathering. Phyllis is pushing wine. Uncle Harvey is pushing guns. Bernard is pushing puppetry. In the other room, Eddie needs a job. Pattie needs a hand. Neville needs a distraction. When a bestselling novelist stumbles into the holiday already in progress, he is a person of interest. Clive wants acceptance. Rachel wants love. Belinda wants sex. Nine people are forced to celebrate the three-day holiday, together. It’s England, so Boxing Day adds an extra day for family disunity. Instead of 5 minutes of Christmas morning mayhem, Season’s Greetings unwraps holiday humor over a prolonged period.
This isn’t an American family dysfunctional comedy. It’s not the Griswolds at Christmas. It’s set in England but it’s no Dickens tale either. Playwright Alan Ayckbourn wrote a modern-day British holiday show. His characters are distinct in personality and desire. Although the family is named the ‘Bunkers’, it’s not the American perception of Archie-Bunker-style-meathead-dingbat-humor. It’s the British Bunkers. The drama is reserved. The humor is droll. Director BJ Jones keeps the UK feel by pacing it slow and overlapping scenes. In the forefront, a conversation is the focal point. On the side, Bernard loads in his extravagant puppet pageantry. The audience knows the family despises Bernard’s creation. It’s this type of subtle amusement that underlies the entire show.
The talented cast converses as a witty British family as opposed to an American screwball version. The family craziness is contained. Being of American humor, I’m drawn to the the exaggerated personas as the memorable standouts. Francis Guinan (Bernard) is charmingly obtuse. He placates his wife’s intensity while forcing the puppet invasion. His red-faced snapping over ‘Pig 1’ and ‘Pig 2’ is hysterical. Amy J. Carle (Phyllis) is a drunken mess. Carle is so realistically slurring and swaying that I’m worried about the red glass of wine perched on the white furniture. Rob Riley (Harvey) is a gruff-say-whatever-shoot-whenever-piece-of-work. Every inappropriate word out of Riley’s mouth is laughable.
Season’s Greetings is entertaining but not in a Hollywood-holiday-classic-way. The ending isn’t sentimental resolution. It’s realistic and mundane. Until the theatre goes black, there is uncertainty that the show has actually concluded. There is no Christmas miracle. Life returns to normal following the holiday respite. Seeing Season’s Greetings will be relatable to your own family drama and reinforce a gunless and puppet-less holiday.
Season’s Greetings continues through December 18th at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard (map), with performances Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Wednesdays at 1pm and 7:30pm, Fridays at 2:30pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2:30pm and 7pm. Tickets are $25-$60, and are available by phone (847-673-6300) or online at tickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at northlight.org. (Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, which includes one intermission)
All photos by Michael Brosilow
John Byrnes (Eddie); Amy J. Carle (Phyllis); Fran Guinan (Bernard); Steve Haggard (Clive); Heidi Kettenring (Belinda); Maggie Kettering (Pattie); Ginger Lee McDermott (Rachel); Matt Schwader (Neville); Rob Riley (Harvey)
behind the scenes