What’s the funniest thing about Christmas? Other people’s dysfunctional families! Stage 3’s current production of Tom Dudzick’s Greetings! gives us a good dose of that crazy, crazed, family hilarity, combined with sweet fantasy and maybe a little food for thought. All in all, a good Christmas entertainment --- kind of a modern Dickensian Christmas Carol.
Stage 3 has assembled a group of five, fine actors under the inspired direction of Jay Newington. Anthony DeGregorio, striking the right tone for the son who got away, and Susannah Holland, amazing as his disabled sibling who will never leave, have pleased Stage 3 patrons this season in previous roles. Mike Moon, the cranky dad, Sherry Dumos , the perfect longsuffering wife and mother, and Kaitlyn Brennan, the sweetly innocent houseguest, are all veterans of Stage 3, as well as other area theaters. Dumos played a much more abrasive character in Stage 3’s most recent production, Good People.
As the head of the house, Phil Gorski (Moon) rules with a bellowing voice, much like Archie Bunker did in that TV household of the 70’s. It is Christmas 1990 in Pittsburgh, and on the Gorski’s street only four families have put up lights, prompting Phil to a tirade on neighborhood atheists. No matter that the electricity is as unreliable as Phil’s Christmas spirit. He sees himself as the model of Christian values, though the audience sees his grouchy, narrow-mindedness much differently. Fortunately, wife Emily (Dumos) is of a more kindly nature though she doesn’t exactly “turn-the-other-cheek” to Phil’s temper. The only consistently good-natured part of the family is the 20-something, developmentally disabled Mickey (Holland).
Speaking of atheists, the Gorski’s son Andy (DeGregorio) who has relocated to New York City, is about to arrive and is bringing his girlfriend Randi (Brennan), whom we discover along with the Gorskis, is not only of Jewish descent, but an avowed atheist. We can guess what conflict ensues. By the end of Act I, it looks like all Christmas (and Christian) feeling has left the building, until a surprise twist involving Mickey brings a new direction to this family gathering and revelations that call for more sympathy. Director Newington calls the play “an exploration of spirituality” and hopes the audience will find it “inspirational.”
Special appreciation goes to Susannah Holland for bringing so much skill to the part of Mickey. She had to present Mickey in constant action and affect, but without much dialogue or even much interaction with the other characters all through Act I. Yet her Mickey was a believably charming child in an adult body, and Holland sensitively portrayed her disability. Act II calls for a very different role from this actor, who is up to the challenge.
The song “Home for the Holidays” with its repetitious, phrase “home sweet home” adds just the right irony to set the stage for Act II, which to the audience’s delight opens at the very moment Act I ends. You won’t be able to wait to see some explanation for what has occurred. Suffice to say, that explanation comes, and it changes everyone, even Phil, though not quickly, and not assuredly in the right direction. In the process, everyone has to take responsibility for his or her own version of reality, so of course, conflicts continue in the search for common ground. At one point Andy shouts in desperation, “I can’t toss it off, just because I can’t explain it.” And that becomes, for this viewer, a summary of faith, even though we may never all agree on the details. Merry Christmas.
“Greetings” is open now and runs through December 21 at Stage 3, 208 South Green Street, Sonora. Call 209-536-1778 for tickets or go to www.Stage3.org