Chicago Theater Review: SEASON’S GREETINGS (Northlight Theatre in Skokie)

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by Dan Zeff on November 22, 2011

in Theater-Chicago

HO HO HUM

Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings is an anti-holiday-cheer comedy which should be appropriate for audiences ready for an excursion into the dark side of the Christmas season. There’s drunkenness, attempted adultery, endless family bickering, a shooting, and a preposterous marionette show. For anyone who has endured a dysfunctional family holiday gathering, this show may provide an agreeable shock of recognition, and some chuckles to boot, but Northlight Theatre’s revival is infrequently hilarious and, at best, merely amusing.

Season’s Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

Season’s Greetings has become something of a holiday tradition in England since it premiered in 1980, yet Ayckbourn, the most successful British comic playwright of the last half century, doesn’t play as funny in the USA as he does in the UK. Productions reviewed by Stage and CinemaLife of Riley in San Diego, Bedroom Farce in Los Angeles and The Norman Conquests in New York—elucidate how tricky it is to make Ayckbourn’s unique patois come alive in the States (though note that the latter example was brilliant).

Season’s Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie – Chicago Theater Review by Dan ZeffThe play takes place from Christmas Eve through the English observance called Boxing Day, the day after Christmas when people traditionally exchange presents. The location is the suburban residence of the Bunker family, where nine adults gather to celebrate the season and to get on each other’s nerves. Cumulatively they have twelve children, all off stage, but the kiddies aren’t missed: in this comedy, the grownups are more childish than their offspring.

There is no real plot to Season’s Greetings, just a series of mishaps, misunderstandings, and confrontations. The funniest character is Bernard (Fran Guinan), an inept middle-aged physician who inflicts a hopeless marionette play annually on the children. The next funniest is Harvey (Rob Riley), a curmudgeonly old gaffer who enjoys sitting in front of the television set watching people getting destroyed in action movies. Phyllis (Amy Carle, with a thick foreign accent for some reason) is Bernard’s boozing wife, who is a mistress of making a spectacle of herself.

Season’s Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie – Chicago Theater Review by Dan ZeffBelinda (Heidi Kettenring) and Neville (Matt Schwader) are enduring a marriage that has gone stale, leaving the lady ripe for a quickie seduction by a semi-successful author and Bunker houseguest Clive (a bit too youthful Steve Haggard). Eddie (stylish John Byrnes) is a genial and shiftless loser married to the hapless and pregnant Pattie (the especially winning Maggie Kettering), who can’t seem to get anyone’s attention.

Then there is poor Rachel, Belinda’s unmarried sister, with a hopeful but futile romantic eye on Clive. (My favorite performance after Guinan and Riley came from Ginger Lee McDermott as Rachel: she gives us the least cartoonish character on stage, a 38-year old trying to put a brave face of indifference on a life urgently in need of some romance.)

Season’s Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

These characters mix and match abrasively. The most comical encounters involve the mutual disdain between bullying arch conservative Harvey and stuffy Bernard with his liberal politics and interminable and incompetent marionette show. Then there are Belinda and Clive rolling erotically on the living floor in the wee hours of the evening, discovered in flagrante by the rest of the household gathered in various attitudes of amusement and distaste on an overlooking staircase.

Season’s Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie – Chicago Theater Review by Dan ZeffDirector B. J. Jones puts the cast briskly through their paces, with most everyone’s British accents strongly in place. Keith Pitts designed the two-level set, dealing as best he can with the challenges of a play more suited to a proscenium stage than the thrust at Northlight. Rachel Laritz designed the costumes, JR Lederle the lighting, and Andre Pluess the sound.

The Northlight has assembled a strong ensemble, but this fine cast simply could not mine the laughs out of Ayckbourn that one would find across the Pond. Until Bernard’s ludicrous marionette show of The Three Little Pigs, it was all pleasant enough but not thigh-slapping, laugh-out-loud fun. The bottom line is that Season’s Greetings is a diverting alternative to the endless supply of The Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life flooding Chicagoland through the end of the year, but the show is probably best seen in a London theater in front of a British audience.

Season’s Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

Season’s Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeffphotos by Michael Brosilow

Season’s Greetings
Northlight Theatre
9501 Skokie Blvd in Skokie
ends on December 18, 2011
for tickets, call 847.673.6300
or visit Northlight Theatre

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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