By Show and Tell
By Bree Davies
By Bree Davies
By Cory Casciato
By Emilie Johnson
By Robin Edwards
By Bree Davis
By Josiah M. Hesse
The first act starts slowly, encumbered by the required plot setup. But once it gets going, it's like a speeding train, one anarchic development following another, with each plot device clicking neatly and hilariously into place in the brilliant way of classic farce. If you're not in tears of laughter by intermission, you should probably be at The Nutcracker. Soon after the beginning of the second act, there's an equally inspired bit, though it's less farcical and quivers with just the barest hint of real emotion. Bernard practices his puppet show with the help of a resentful Pattie, snapping at her for not handing him his puppets, props and bits of scenery fast enough -- "Why do you keep giving me the wrong pig?" -- while Harvey goads him and Phyllis offers drunken wifely encouragement.
The play's climax is unexpectedly dark. Season's Greetings occupies a niche somewhere between farce and domestic comedy (many critics have compared Ayckbourn to Neil Simon, but I find both his wit and his ability to structure action sharper), and this abrupt tumble into the blackest of black comedy feels out of place. Where the first act concluded with a raging cascade of bits and jokes, the second ends with one quiet, bitter, anti-climactic line. It belongs to Belinda, who's played very broadly -- always agitated, almost always in movement -- by Kathleen McCall, and a hint of vulnerability would have made both the ending and the entire play work better.
The set, by Hugh Landwehr, is festive and funny and makes ingenious use of the cozy Space Theatre, though sightlines are sometimes a problem. The English accents are less than secure, and a couple of the performances are a little weak. Mike Hartman makes a convincingly bluff Harvey, and Henny Russell is funny and periodically touching as the repressed Rachel. The standouts (admittedly, they have the best material) are Charlotte Booker, insanely uninhibited as Phyllis, and Paul Hebron, who inhabits poor Bernard with deflated pomposity.
Although Season's Greetings is not Ayckbourn's best, it's still very funny -- more consistently funny than this Denver Center Theatre Company production makes it seem. Flaws and all, though, I'll take this show over the usual Christmas fare.