“Season’s Greetings” —
The confrontations, confessions and trysts that occur over the course of an extended family holiday in Alan Ayckbourn’s “Season’s Greetings” are the stuff of Chekhovian drama. Pathos underscores these characters: preoccupied husband, neglected wife, boozy sister-in-law, amorous newcomer, cantankerous patriarch.
There’s even a gun. And, yes, before the play ends, someone fires it.
That said, “Season’s Greetings” is a comedy. Buffalo Theatre Ensemble’s funny, vigorously paced revival confirms it. And like all good comedies, it’s rooted in truth, which, for the most part, BTE’s production captures.
Bernard (Robert Jordan Bailey) shows off to Belinda (Katelyn McKeon) the puppets he made for his annual holiday puppet show in Buffalo Theatre Ensemble’s revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s “Season’s Greetings.” – Courtesy of Rex Howard Photography
What’s more, during a season when heartwarming tales dominate local stages, this comedy about a family holiday gone awry, is likely to resonate with anyone (including those who don’t celebrate Christmas) who ever tried and failed to make a family gathering live up to the Rockwellian perfection depicted in a Lifetime Christmas movie.
It is clear early on that a perfect celebration is unlikely for Belinda and Neville Bunker, whose family and friends have joined them for the holiday at their comfortably middle-class, suburban London home.
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The action commences on Christmas Eve with the gun-loving, TV obsessed Uncle Harvey (the wonderfully cantankerous Hugh Callaly who earns the biggest laughs) needling mild-mannered Bernard (Robert Jordan Bailey). An unremarkable physician whose skills are questionable, Bernard is preoccupied with his annual Christmas Day puppet performance, an elaborately staged production in 16 scenes that no one but him wants to see.
Houseguest Clive (Brad Lawrence), center, causes friction between sisters Belinda (Katelyn McKeon), left, and Rachel (Tina Shelley) in Buffalo Theatre Ensemble’s “Season’s Greetings.” – Courtesy of Rex Howard Photography
Presiding over the holiday preparations is Belinda (Katelyn McKeon), a neglected wife trying to convince herself that companionship is enough to sustain her marriage. Meanwhile, her detached husband Neville (Kurt Naebig, whose comic performance stings) is more interested in tinkering with electronics (or sharing a pint with his pub mates) than spending time with his family.
Joining him is pal and former co-worker Eddie (Charles Loggins III), whose pregnant wife, Pattie (Renata Naomi), is left to wrangle their three kids into bed. The children are unseen, leaving the childish behavior to the adults.
In the kitchen, Bernard’s boozy wife, Phyllis (Laura Leondaro Ownby), wreaks havoc preparing a lamb dinner no one wants to eat. Also on hand is Rachel (Tina Shelley), Belinda’s perpetually disappointed, unmarried sister who has invited budding author Clive (nice work by Brad Lawrence) to join the festivities.
A cranky uncle (Hugh Callaly), left, and an inebriated sister (Tina Shelley) are among the houseguests spending a not-so-merry Christmas together in Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy “Season’s Greetings.” – Courtesy of Rex Howard Photography
Sparks fly between him and Belinda, which leads to an ill-conceived midnight assignation beneath the Christmas tree that awakens the entire house.
Director Connie Canady Howard’s finely honed production really gets humming in the second act, the better of the two. Pacing is crucial in a comedy flirting with farce like “Season’s Greetings,” and Howard’s cast maintains a brisk one. Sometimes too brisk. A couple of times I missed the jokes, the dialogue zipped by so fast. Some of the actors could dig a little deeper into the emotional truth of their characters. But overall, Howard’s production is well-rehearsed and solidly acted, with Lawrence, Naebig and Callaly especially skilled at mining their respective characters’ unease, anger and shame.
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Location: Buffalo Theatre Ensemble at McAninch Arts Center, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn, (630) 942-4000, atthemac.org, btechicago.com
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 18
Running time: About 2 hours with intermission
Parking: In the adjacent lot
Rating: For teens and older, includes mature subject matter
COVID-19 precautions: Masks recommended