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Front Row Center
By Michael Warren
By Tom Dudzick
Directed by Peggy Lord Chilton
Watching Greetings! is like receiving a Hallmark card. While the intention is good, the expression is trite. And this play could have been so much more – Tom Dudzick has taken some really promising material and ended up turning it into a TV sitcom. It’s a classic situation – boy takes unsuitable girlfriend home to meet old-fashioned parents at Christmas. In this case, the parents are Catholic and the girl is a Jewish atheist, so we can expect that an excruciating time will be had by all. We laugh that we may not weep.
An experienced cast did their best with this tense family scenario, and Peggy Lord Chilton moved the whole thing along at a good pace. Kevin O’Byrne plays the young man “Andy Gorski” with considerable anxiety, as we first meet him and his fiancée “Randi Stein” aboard the plane that carries them to the dreaded rendezvous with his parents near Pittsburgh. Sally Jo Bartlett has an understated role as Randi, who presumably loves Andy and would like to love his parents too. She is a sympathetic foil to Andy’s understandable nervousness, and later in the play she has an emotional moment when she reveals that she has given up on God because her little sister was killed in a random car accident.
Kenneth Bridges (“Phil Gorski”) and Amy Friend (“Emily Gorski”) are both excellent and realistic as the unhappy parents. He is an Archie Bunker type, constantly grouchy and at odds with his neighbors and the world in general – a self-righteous crank who retreats to the basement for a few beers before the guests arrive. She is compliant and tries to survive on very little love. Mostly they stay together because of “Mickey” – their other son who is “retarded” and needs constant care.
Keith Scott gives a wonderful performance as Mickey, who doesn’t speak for most of the first act except to say, ”Oh Boy!” or “Wow!” Then he is suddenly transformed, to everyone’s amazement, as his body is occupied by a mysterious entity called “Lucius.” This exciting event occurs at the end of an over-long first act, and gives the audience a good reason to stay for the second act. There’s a lot of talk about God in this play, and occasionally something profound emerges amid the insults and banter. But all too often the dialogue is uninteresting and banal. The best line in the play occurs as the family is bickering at dinner over religion, and Andy says “Can’t we talk about politics or something?” The existence of Lucius implies reincarnation and he seems to have a Hindu accent, but no one asks him about it and mostly they hope he’ll go away and let good old Mickey have his body back.
Emily has a touching scene with Lucius and begins to change her life, while Phil is convinced he is sent to him as a punishment and attempts an exorcism. As Lucius says “People do not change until they are ready to change. Some never do.” Keith Scott manages the transitions from Lucius to Mickey with great skill, and the rest of the players are well cast in their various roles in this dysfunctional family.
On the evening I attended, the audience was responsive and the acting was first-class. I congratulate Peggy Lord Chilton
and her crew for a splendid effort. The Stage Manager was Kathleen Neal and Margo Eberly was Assistant Stage Manager. Also the set construction and décor were cleverly done, with a natural feeling to the room, and good sight lines and movement between different areas of the stage. I look forward to the next play which is How the Other Half Loves by Alan Ayckbourn, opening on January 14th.