BWW Reviews: St. Louis Actors' Studio Holiday Offering SEASON'S GREETINGS
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by Chris Gibson
I have to confess that I'm not particularly fond of playwright/director Alan Ayckbourn's brand of British farce. I just don't think it translates very well to American audiences, and it requires the actors involved to sport solid accents, or it loses its credibility. That's why I was a bit surprised by the St. Louis Actors' Studio's choice of his work, Season's Greetings, as their holiday offering. They're best known, to me at least, for their edgy premieres and inspired revivals, so this is something of a disappointment. Perhaps, they were drawn to it's sudden violence and black comic trappings, but it just doesn't suit them as well as it might.
Belinda and Neville are hosting their annual Christmas/Boxing Day event for their family and friends. It's a stressful time made more stressful by the lack of communication that has crept into their marriage and rendered it stale and lifeless. Of course, it's the peculiar mixture of relatives and friends that really colors this, and there are some odd choices. There's Uncle Harvey, an ex-security guard, who's given the children guns for the holiday, and who has a knife strapped to his calf. There's inept physician Bernard and his alcoholic wife Phyllis, as well. Plus, you have Neville's close friend Eddie and his wife Pattie, who have three kids and one on the way. But, the fly in the ointment may be Clive, Belinda's spinster sister Rachel's “date” for the festivities. Ayckbourn puts these all into a stew and stirs the pot to see what will happen.
Emily Baker does solid work here as Belinda, attracted to Clive, but clinging to a notion that she can still make a go of it with Neville. Eric Dean White is also good as her distracted and oblivious husband. Jason Grubbe steals the show as the cantankerous Harvey, delivering a terrific accent, and giving his snarling character a genuine sense of toughness. Teresa Doggett amuses as the tipsy Phyllis, and Phillip E. Bozich muddles through as her long-suffering husand, who has a penchant for puppet shows. Rachel Hanks is over the top as the frigid and repressed Rachel, and Stephen Peirick seems in over his head as novelist Clive. Tom Lehmann is good as Eddie, who's given a second chance at success by Neville, and Wendy R. Greenwood rounds out the cast as Eddie's patient wife, Pattie.
Elizabeth Helman's direction is hampered by an uneven approach to the accents, and by a script that contains no likable characters to identify with whatsoever. Christie Johnson's scenic design is good and provides a homey atmosphere, but there's precious little room left over for movement. JC Krajicek's costumes are good and fit each character fairly well. Jonathan Zelezniak's lighting scheme fits the mood of each scene. Lisa Beke's props are generally very good, but the skinny Christmas tree is more a concession to space than the centerpiece it's meant to be.
If you like your farces with a British flair, then go see the St. Louis Actors' Studio's production of Season's Greetings.