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Season's Greetings
by Alan Ayckbourn
directed by BJ Jones

NOVEMBER 11, 2011 - DECEMBER 18, 2011

Recommended by WGN, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Magazine


It's Christmas in the Bunker household--'tis the season for bickering relatives, drunken mishaps, and an ill-conceived puppet show that no one wants to see. The holiday traditions we all love (and secretly dread) meet with disaster in this riotously funny take on a "normal" family Christmas.



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About the Playwright

Sir Alan Ayckbourn grew up in Hampstead, London. He is the only son of Irene Maud Worley - better known as the novelist Mary James - and Horace Ayckbourn, lead violinist with the London Symphony Orchestra.

 

Ayckbourn left school at the age of 17 to pursue a career in theatre. 2011 marks his 50th year as a theatre director and his 52nd as a playwright. He has written 75 plays to date and his work has been translated into over 35 languages.

 

His major plays include Relatively Speaking, How the Other Half Loves, Bedroom Farce, A Chorus of Disapproval and The Norman Conquests. In 2009, Ayckbourn retired from his position as Artistic Director at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, England, where almost all of his plays have premiered during his 37 years with the company.

 

Most recently, he has been inducted into American Theatre's Hall of Fame, received the 2010 Critics' Circle Award for Services to the Arts, and became the first British playwright to receive both Olivier and Tony Special Lifetime Achievement Awards. He was knighted in 1997 for services to the theatre.

 

Season's Greetings, written in 1980, is Ayckbourn's second holiday-themed play. The first is Absurd Person Singular (1972), which chronicles the changing fortunes of three couples through Christmas conversations in their kitchens. Unlike the somewhat bleak treatment of the holiday festivities in Absurd Person Singular, Season's Greetings deals with a far more traditional Christmas as the Bunker family and friends gather to celebrate.

 

Ayckbourn explains this change in style by noting:

 

"This time, I wanted to paint the rosier side of the picture. To write instead about log fires, Christmas trees, excited children's faces, candle-light, the holly and the mistletoe. The Bunkers' home has all these. It's comfy and cosy and it swarms with children. Not the smaller, shorter variety though who remain unseen, usually lurking just out of sight in muddy gum boots.

 

But the taller older ones are on view. Those currently going through the ‘awkward' age, the twenty-five to seventy year olds. They're all there. Fighting over their toys, clamouring for attention, bullying, sneaking and crying, then kissing and making up and generally getting far too overexcited, as they always do every year at Christmas.

 

Season's Greetings is a play about love and about, as Rachel puts it, how unfair it all is. And success and failure. And jealousy and self-deception. And greed and envy and lust and gluttony. Just an average family Christmas."


 


The Bunker Family and Guests

 


Rehearsal Photos

View photos from the first Season's Greetings rehearsal at Northlight.

 


Glossary of Christmas Holiday Traditions in the United Kingdom

Father Christmas Queen's Speech
Boxing Day Mince Pies
Pantomime Christmas Pudding
Christmas Crackers Teatime

FATHER CHRISTMAS

It was only during this past century that the British Father Christmas has come to resemble America's Santa Claus. He is the modern day equivalent of the winter pagan figure who represented the coming of spring, as well as Saint Nicholas, a 3rd century gift-giver known for placing coins in children's stockings.


The Victorian Father Christmas embodied elements of all his predecessors and was usually drawn in a long, hooded coat of green, blue, brown, or even purple. He was also thought to be tall and thin. The Ghost of Christmas Present, as illustrated by John Leech in the original 1843 printing of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, is very pagan indeed in a green cloak and holly wreath. Today, he more closely resembles the American Santa Claus in a red suit and a long white beard, as influenced by Clement C. Moore's 1822 poem "The Night Before Christmas" and the famous Coca Cola advertisements.

 

Nevertheless, there are still a few uniquely British customs children follow in preparation for Father Christmas' arrival.

 

It is traditional to send wish lists to Father Christmas by throwing the letters into the back of an unlit fireplace, which are then carried up the chimney by the draught. Today, though, most British children send their Christmas wish lists by post or e-mail.

 

In addition to writing letters, children often visit Father Christmas in shops to share their wish lists in person.

 

Also, instead of milk and cookies, on Christmas Eve, children leave out mince pies and brandy or wine, as well as carrots for the reindeer.

 

BOXING DAY


Boxing Day falls on December 26th. This public holiday in the United Kingdom is also celebrated in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Typically, the day is spent as a continuation of Christmas morning. As Belinda notes, "We're going to... give the kids their stockings [Christmas] morning with some little things and save the big presents for Boxing Day" (2). In addition, Boxing Day marks the beginning of the pantomime play season, as well as the post-Christmas sales similar to the day after Thanksgiving in America. Even sports, like fox hunting, horse racing, and football matches, are played and televised.

 

The holiday's origin, meanwhile, remains unknown. It might have started when soldiers in the Roman Empire first brought collection boxes to the United Kingdom in which to store money for the poor. Oftentimes, though, they gambled the collection money during their own winter celebrations. Another theory dates back to the Middle Ages when church leaders opened alms boxes to distribute the contents to the poor on Saint Stephen's Day, the day after Christmas.

 

For centuries it was traditional in the United Kingdom that servants got the day off to celebrate Christmas with their families on Boxing Day. Before World War II, it was common for working people (such as milkmen and butchers) to collect their Christmas tip from their delivery sites. This tradition has now mostly stopped and holiday tips are no longer given or collected on Boxing Day.

 

PANTOMIME

Pantomime, or panto, plays are performed in lavishly decorated venues that range from the United Kingdom's top theatres to local village halls and community centers. Modern pantomimes are predominantly created for family audiences, and are nearly always based on well-known children's stories, such as Cinderella, Snow White, or Peter Pan. These familiar tales are then spoofed through songs, jokes, and commentary on current events.

 

There is a strict formula for every panto plot: a girl dressed as a boy, who is the son of a man dressed as a woman, will win the other girl (surprisingly dressed as a girl) with the assistance of an animal or other mythical creature.

 

The female "Principal Boy" wears tights and short skirts to show off her legs - a tradition that was especially scandalous in centuries past. Nearly always played by the prettiest female in the cast, the "Principle Girl" is traditionally portrayed as the epitome of youth and innocence. A male member of the cast, dressed in drag, always plays the most extravagant panto character: the Dame. She is usually portrayed as older, unattractive and fairly common - all qualities she believes she is the exact opposite of!

 

Pantomimes must also include elaborate transformation scenes, which started during the 18th century as a way of moving between the different sections of the story. Rather than just stopping one section and starting another, actors found ever more creative and imaginative ways to continue the story until the necessary scenery changes had been made. As pantomime developed and stage technology became more advanced the transformations became events in themselves.

 

Today, pantomime is a thriving business in the UK, with large theatres competing for "star" names that will attract full houses.

Below, actor Ian McKellen recounts his own history with the pantomime tradition, including his appearance as Dame Twankey in The Old Vic Theatre Company's 2004 production of Aladdin:

"If you have ever wondered why the British people relish live theatre so much and nurture the writers and actors to go with it, you probably don't know what a "pantomime" is. Ask any of us where we first discovered and were excited by theatre-going. Our eyes will mist, even as we laugh and remember our childhood and that first trip with the family to see a Christmas show of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk or whatever fairy story was being retold onstage that impressionable year long ago.

 

In my youth every town had its panto, often more than one, that toured or stayed put in the local big theatre from December to Easter, starring popular comedians and singers (though rarely actors) in a farrago of theatricality. The familiar tale would be told through jangling verse and music, with the audience joining in, thanks to a song-sheet dropped from the flies. With children, their parents and their parents' parents out front, all age groups and tastes had to be catered for. So the dads would be charmed by a chorus of leggy dancing girls and a cross-dressing hero, Prince Charming done up in the shortest of tunics and the tightest of fishnet stockings. The kids could marvel at the inevitable transformation scene which, like much else, was a remnant from Victorian pantomimes, although actual mime and characters inherited from commedia dell'arte have long since dropped away. Slapstick scenes remain and there is much broad comedy centering on the Dame character, usually the hero's mother, played by a man in a way that makes it always obvious that she is a man in a frock.

 

Describing all this to Kevin Spacey, director of the Old Vic Theatre, who has never seen a panto, was as tricky as explaining the rules of cricket but it all becomes clear, I assured him, in performance. So many disparate elements of theatre are on display - magical scenery, dance and song and rhyme, cross-dressing, audience participation, soliloquy - often stretching back to Shakespeare and the origins of western theatre tradition and yet unique to Britain."

 

CHRISTMAS CRACKERS

Crackers are an indispensable part of holiday celebrations in Britain. The paper tubes come in a wide range of shiny colors, while the ends are either left plain or made of lacy paper.

 

When the ends are pulled, these devices produce a loud bang, revealing tissue paper hats and crowns, little toys, and strips of corny riddles. Crackers vary in size from about six inches to several feet long and prizes range anywhere from small plastic trinkets to fine jewelry (typically found in expensive luxury crackers from Harrods).

QUEEN'S SPEECH

Around 3pm on Christmas day Queen Elizabeth II broadcasts a special holiday message to her subjects all over the world. Her grandfather King George V began the custom in 1932, and it is an occasion few Brits care to miss.

 

MINCE PIES

Mince pies are a British tradition, prepared especially for the Christmas and New Year holidays. The pies are usually small in size, about two to three inches in diameter. They are made of sweet puff pastry or shortcut pastry.

 

The term "mince" is a shortened version of "mincemeat." The pies evolved from a medieval pastry called "chewette," which was made with chopped meat or liver, boiled eggs, ginger, dried fruit, and other sweet ingredients. During the 17th century, the meat products were replaced with suet, or beef fat, and by the 19th century mince pies no longer contained any meat at all.

 

Today, mince pies are usually filled with fruit mincemeat containing dried fruit (raisins, currants, cherries, apricots, or candied peels), spices (cinnamon or nutmeg), nuts (walnuts or almonds), suet, and alcohol (brandy or rum). After baking, powdered sugar is dusted on top for the finishing touch.

 

There are a few key traditions and rules when it comes to mince pie. During the pies' preparation, the mincemeat mixture should only be turned clockwise because stirring it counterclockwise is considered unlucky. Also, pies typically have a star on top to represent the Christmas star that, according to the Bible story, led the Magi and shepherds to baby Jesus. While eating the first mince pie of the season, it's traditional to make a wish and to eat in silence. Eating a mince pie each day of the 12 days of Christmas is good luck for the upcoming year.

CHRISTMAS PUDDING

Christmas pudding, also known as figgy pudding, is an original English delicacy. This, along with other holiday desserts like mince pies, is traditionally made five weeks before Christmas on "Stir-Up Sunday," which falls on the Sunday before Advent. On this day, each family member gives the pudding a stir and makes a wish for the coming year.

 

The rich and heavy pudding mixture consists of dried fruit, nuts, and suet. After it is boiled or steamed, the cooked pudding should look very dark. It is then saturated with alcohol, such as brandy or dark beer, and decorated with sugar icing and a spray of holly before being stored in a cool, dry place until Christmas Eve.

 

On the day it is served, the pudding will need to be steamed for a few more hours to soften. The dessert's presentation often becomes a ceremonious affair. Some adventurous Brits even light it on fire and serve it en flambé!

 

Once everyone has been served, they search for the lucky charm baked into the mixture. Charms include silver coins (for wealth), tiny wishbones (for good luck), a silver thimble (for thrift), a ring (for marriage), or an anchor (for safe harbor).


Families sometimes make multiple puddings and save one of them for another holiday, like Easter, or even the next Christmas. Many argue that this takes away from the flavor, but it is believed that a good pudding should be able to keep that long.

 

THE HISTORY OF TEATIME

Prior to the introduction of tea into Britain, the English had two main meals: breakfast and dinner. Breakfast was ale, bread, and beef. During the middle of the eighteenth century, dinner for the upper and middle classes had shifted from noontime to an evening meal that was served at a fashionable late hour. Thus, the English found themselves feeling famished midday.

 

In 1600 Queen Elizabeth I granted permission for the charter of the British East India Company to establish trade routes, ports, and trading relationships with the Far East, Southeast Asia, and India. Trade in spices was its original focus, but later grew to trade in cottons, silks, indigo, saltpeter, and tea. Due to political and other factors, the tea trade didn't begin until the late 1670s.  By the 1700's, tea was on sale by more than 500 coffee houses in London. Tea drinking became even more popular when Queen Anne chose tea over ale as her regular breakfast drink.  According to legend, one of Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting, the Duchess of Bedford, is credited as the creator of afternoon teatime in the 19th century. Because the noon meal had become skimpier, the Duchess suffered from "a sinking feeling" at about four o'clock in the afternoon. At first the Duchess had her servants sneak her a pot of tea and a few breadstuffs. Adopting the European tea service format, she invited friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal at five o'clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle. The menu centered around small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and, of course, tea. This summer practice proved so popular, the Duchess continued it when she returned to London. The practice of inviting friends to come for tea in the afternoon was quickly picked up by other social hostesses.


Like many old cultural traditions, English teatime is falling victim to the fast pace of modern life. Even in England, formal teas have become much less common. Most British people still enjoy a snack and a cup of tea in the late afternoon - it's just often eaten on the run or in front of a computer screen, instead of at a table with family and friends. However, no matter how busy they become, people still enjoy teatime as a social occasion whenever their schedules permit them to.


o High Tea - "Meat tea," typically served closer to dinnertime with a heavier menu.
o Low Tea - "Afternoon tea," taken in the afternoon between 3 and 5pm and serves small sweets and pastries (and sometimes even finger sandwiches


CAST

 John Byrnes

John Byrnes (Eddie) has been working with The Hypocrites since The Cherry Orchard in 2000. Other Chicago credits include appearances with Timeline, the Neo-Futurists, Eclipse, Rising Moon and the Bailiwick. Outside Chicago, he has also performed with the Minnesota Fringe Festival, the Huntington Theatre, New Repertory, Boston Playwrights' Theater and the Vineyard Playhouse, among others. John has also appeared in various television and radio commercials. He currently manages an arts education and performing arts center on the Near West Side.

Amy Carle

Amy J. Carle (Phyllis) makes her Northlight Theatre debut. Chicago credits include: Animals Out of Paper, Sex With Strangers, Hedda Gabler (Steppenwolf); Orlando (Court Theatre); The Sins of Sor Juana, Rock ‘N' Roll, Desire Under the Elms (The Goodman Theatre); Peter Pan, Trust (Lookingglass); Refuge (CollaborAction, Jeff nom.); SubUrbia, The Lights (Jeff nom.), Ecstasy, WAS, The Planets (Roadworks Productions). Regional credits: Fully Committed and The Diary of Anne Frank (Madison Repertory Theatre); Morning Star (Kansas City Repertory Theatre). Off Broadway National Tour: The Vagina Monologues. Television: Chicago Code (FOX), Law & Order (NBC), The Guiding Light (CBS).

Fran Guinan

Fran Guinan (Bernard) is member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company ensemble, where appearances include August: Osage County, Love Song, Cherry Orchard, The Grapes of Wrath, Balm in Gilead, True West, and The Diary of Anne Frank.  He previously appeared at Northlight in Inherit the Wind.  Los Angeles credits include God's Man in Texas and The Weir (Geffen Playhouse); Stuff Happens and Space (Mark Taper Forum); and The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial, True West, Antigone, Oedipus the King, and numerous other productions (L.A. Theatre Works).  His many TV credits include "Grey's Anatomy", "CSI: NY", "3rd Rock From the Sun", "Frasier", John Frankenheimer's "Path to War" and most notably as the Dad in "Eerie, Indiana."  Film credits include roles in Constantine, Hannibal, Guinevere, Shining Through, and Speed II. This performance is in honor of the courage and generosity of his family.

 Steve Haggard
Steve Haggard (Clive) was last seen at Northlight as Tony Lumpkin in She Stoops to Conquer. Other Chicago credits: The Mandrake, Kimberly Akimbo (A Red Orchid Theatre), As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet (Chicago Shakespeare), Old Glory, The Subject was Roses, Our Town (Writers' Theatre), Power (Remy Bumppo) and A Christmas Carol (Goodman Theatre). Regional credits include The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors, Hay Fever, The Winter's Tale, Ah Wilderness, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Belle's Stratagem (American Players Theatre). Steve is an ensemble member at A Red Orchid Theatre. Love to Mom and Q.
Heidi Kettenring

 

Heidi Kettenring (Belinda) appeared at Northlight in Sense & Sensibility, readings of House On Stilts and Auctioning The Ainsleys, and Side Show. Chicago credits include three years in the Broadway in Chicago production of Wicked, as well as work with Writers', Marriott Lincolnshire, Court, Chicago Shakespeare, Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace and Evergreen Park, Theatre At The Center, and American Theatre Company. Regionally she has appeared at Theatre Works in Palo Alto, Peninsula Players and Bar Harbor Theatre. Heidi has also sung concerts for the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Pensacola Symphony and can be heard singing on a Disney Princess children's book. She is a five-time Jeff nominee, an After Dark Award winner, and the recipient of the Sarah Siddons' Chicago Leading Lady Award. Heidi will be seen as Harper in the upcoming Angels In America at Court. Proud AEA member and wife of actor David Girolmo!

 Maggie Kettering

 

Maggie Kettering (Pattie) is pleased to make her Northlight debut. She most recently appeared as Mrs. Grigson in Shadow of a Gunman (Seanachai Theatre), Lady Percy in Henry VI, Parts 1 & 2 (Oak Park Theatre Festival), and as Lady Capulet in two productions of Romeo & Juliet: one for Babes with Blades, the other-along with Adriana in Comedy of Errors-for the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. Other Chicago credits include Cathy in Orange Flower Water (Backstage Theater), Lady MacDuff for First Folio, and Sylvia in Private Lives (City Lit). Regionally, she appeared in 9 Parts of Desire at the Contemporary American Theatre Festival, and A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It and Inherit the Wind for Warehouse Theatre. She holds an MFA from the University of Delaware's Professional Theatre Training Program, is a founding member and former Artistic Associate for Mythmakers Theatre Company.

Ginger Lee McDermott

 

Ginger Lee McDermott (Rachel) recently appeared in Northlight Theatre's Sense & Sensibility.  Other Chicago credits include Jade Heart with Chicago Dramatists Theatre; Bianca in Othello with Chicago Shakespeare; the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro with Remy Bumppo; and Ann Putnam, Sarah Good and Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible with Steppenwolf.  Regional credits include Proof with Orlando Theatre Project and A Doll's House with Pendragon Theatre.  She has also appeared on television as "the Mom" on The Dooley and Pals Show

 Matt Schwader

 

Matt Schwader (Neville) last appeared on the Northlight stage as Desmond in A Life. Chicago Credits: John in A Life in the Theatre, A Christmas Carol (Goodman); Titus Andronicus (Court); As You Like It, Othello, Henry IV parts 1 & 2, Measure for Measure, Merry Wives of Windsor, Moliere Comedies (Chicago Shakespeare); Juliet in Shakespeare's R&J (co-production Apple Tree & Chicago Shakespeare); All Night Strut (Marriott); Mrs. Warren's Profession (Remy Bumppo); Polish Joke (Noble Fool Theatricals). Regional credits: Actors Theatre of Louisville, Indiana Repertory, and the Utah & Notre Dame Shakespeare Festivals. Matt is a company member of American Players Theatre in Spring Green, WI where he played Raskolnikov in Crime & Punishment this past season. He holds an MFA from the University of Delaware's Professional Theatre Training Program and is a proud member of AEA and AFTRA.

 Rob RIley

 

Rob Riley (Harvey) Chicago credits include The Cripple of Inishmaan (Northlight Theatre); The Crowd You're in With, Moonlight and Magnolias, and A Touch of the Poet (Goodman); I Sailed with Magellan, The End of the Tour, Unspoken Prayers and Before My Eyes (Victory Gardens Theater); Heartbreak House (Remy Bumppo Theatre); The Merry Wives of Windsor (Chicago Shakespeare Theater); The Weir and Playboy of the Western World  (Steppenwolf Theatre); and Cadillac (Chicago Dramatists).  At Actors Theatre of Louisville he appeared in Lisa Dillman's Ground.  He appeared in several mainstage revues at The Second City; in Paul Sills' Sills and Company at Actors Playhouse (New York); and co-wrote, directed, and performed in the musical Wild Men! in Chicago and New York. He has also written and acted in film and television.


PRODUCTION

BJ Jones (Director)
Keith Pitts (Set Design)
Rachel Laritz (Costume Design)
JR Lederle (Lighting Design)
Andre Pluess (Sound Design)
Eva Breneman (Dialect Coach)
Laura D. Glenn (Stage Manager)

 

 


‘Tis the season for bickering relatives, drunken mishaps, and an ill-conceived puppet show that nobody wants to see. The holiday traditions we all love (and secretly dread) meet with disaster in this riotously funny take on the "normal" family Christmas.

 

Photos by Michael Brosilow



Photo Gallery

Click on any image to start the slideshow  Click on images to start slideshow


Uncle Harvey (Rob Riley) and Bernard (Francis Guinan)Eddie (John Byrnes) and Belinda (Heidi Kettenring)Pattie (Maggie Kettering) and Belinda (Heidi Kettenring)Harvey, Belinda, Bernard, Eddie, and NevilleClive (Steve Haggard) and Rachel (Ginger Lee McDermott)Bernard (Francis Guinan)Clive (Steve Haggard) and Phyllis (Amy J. Carle)Clive (Steve Haggard) and Belinda (Heidi Kettenring)The Bunker HouseholdBernard (Francis Guinan) and Pattie (Maggie Kettering)
Bernard (Francis Guinan)Eddie (John Byrnes), Neville (Matt Schwader) and Phyllis (Amy J. Carle)Neville, Clive, Bernard, and RachelClive (Steve Haggard) and Harvey (Rob Riley)Bernard (Francis Guinan) and Rachel (Ginger Lee McDermott)




Under the Christmas tree

Under the Christmas tree
The perfect gift
 
 

Excerpts from Reviews


Christmas goes haywire for a band of merry misfits

CHICAGO TRIBUNE
November 20, 2011
By CHRIS JONES

 

 

In the best moments of BJ Jones' adroit and funny production - and there are many such moments - you start to wonder why our holiday rituals are so clearly designed to prevent us from doing what we actually want to do, with whomever we actually want to do it with. And the older you get, the worse that gets. Heck, family parties can make a day at the office feel good.

 

You see that painful paradox clearly here in the two fine comedic performances that dominate this show. Heidi Kettenring - whose unerring capacity for immersive, provincial Britishness should qualify her for a series of English toffee commercials - plays Belinda, the one nominally throwing this party and the most empathetic character of the bunch. Surrounded (mostly) by men behaving badly, Kettenring's too-smart-for-her-own-good Belinda finally pops off her buttons and decides that she deserves a better class of present. Alas, her Christmas coitus is very much interruptus (in this case by Christmas lights with a mind of their own). Such is her lot. Such is her not-so-merry Christmas. You feel for her.

 

Equally fine, and equally empathetic, is Francis Guinan as Bernard, that grumpy puppeteer. Guinan innately understands that the puppet show is just a metaphor for his character's insecurities - it is about all he has left, and thus the stakes of his play-within-a-play telling of The Three Little Pigs, the marionette version, are no less than for Willy Loman or King Lear. It is a formidable performance - funny, but also deeply sad in the way it understands the anger that can well up in us when we're denied our even trivial level of influence in the world. Who has not been right there with Bernard, or with Rob Riley's Harvey, an old warrior-curmudgeon railing against his own marginalization? And who does not feel it most over the holidays?

 

The rest of this cast (John Byrnes, Amy J. Carle, Steve Haggard, Maggie Kettering, Matt Schwader and Ginger Lee McDermott) are all stellar comic players.

 

 

Read the full review on ChicagoTribune.com

 

 


Expert 'Season's' adds off-beat zest to the holidays

PIONEER PRESS
November 21, 2011
By CATEY SULLIVAN

 

Directed by BJ Jones, Northlight's defiantly irreverent staging of "Season's Greetings" is a welcome acidic palate cleanser among the seasonal slew of "Christmas Carols" and "Christmas Schooners," et al.

 

The delightfully off-kilter action is apparent from the start in "Season's Greetings," as the audience gets an eyeful of the Bunker household. Set designer Keith Pitts has bedecked the place with just a few too many garlands, as if Martha Stewart had been loosed on the household in a slightly manic phase. The Bunkers are Belinda (Heidi Kettenring) and Neville (Matt Schwader), a husband-and-wife team hosting various relatives from Christmas Eve through Dec. 27. It perhaps hardly needs saying that Belinda and Neville do not excel at teamwork and that the household's inhabitants are more related than beloved to each other.

 

In addition to the neglected Belinda and her callow husband, the group includes Neville's perpetually soused sister Phyllis (Amy Carle, flushed as a Christmas ham and in fine comic form as the family lush) and her terminally henpecked husband Bernard (Francis Guinan, nailing the sad-sack despair of a man whose holiday highlight is the staging of a pathetically bad marionette show that absolutely nobody wants to see).

 

Also marinating amid too-freely flowing holiday spirits (of the alcoholic sort, not the Ghost of Christmas Past sort) is Uncle Harvey (Rob Riley), for whom no outfit is complete without a concealed weapon. As the paranoid (to a possibly psychotic degree) Uncle, Riley comes close to stealing the show as a powerful loose cannon whose violently misguided siege mentality (not for nothing did Ayckbourn set this story chez Bunker) leads to an act of violence worthy of a grindhouse film.

 

The strength of "Season's Greetings" lies in the formidable strength of its large, seamless ensemble. This is a group of eccentrics whose brash, over-the-top antics could quickly become shrill and grating. That the group manages to maintain a sense of humanity and a core of emotional truth is a mighty feat given the increasingly ridiculous situations Ayckbourn keeps coming like a staggering herd of feral reindeer.

 

 

Read the full review on PioneerPress.com

 

 


 

'Season's Greetings' takes misfits to new holiday heights

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
November 22, 2011
by HEDY WEISS


Recommended

 

To play out this household farce in which human behavior goes thoroughly amok, director BJ Jones has assembled an A-list cast and each of the nine actors is in full throttle throughout. The toxic mix of revelers here includes Belinda (Heidi Kettenring), the beautiful, perfectionist wife and mother starved for the attention of her husband, Neville (Matt Schwader), a successful businessman who spends all his time tinkering with mechanical things; and Neville's older, mentally disturbed, equally sex-starved and accident-prone sister, Phyllis (Amy Carle), who is married to the painfully devoted Bernard (Francis Guinan), a second-rate doctor whose annual puppet shows are his passion and everyone else's tribulation.

 

Another wildly unhappy couple are friends of the hosts - Eddie (John Byrnes), a feckless fellow who also ignores his very pregnant wife, Pattie (Maggie Kettering). And then there is Belinda's poor, bedraggled, wholly neurotic sister, Rachel (Ginger Lee McDermott), a literary assistant fervently hoping for a romantic connection with Clive (Steve Haggard), the acclaimed young novelist she is shepherding on a book tour. Unfortunately, it is her sister Belinda who has caught his eye.

 

Finally, seated in front of the telly, from where he cynically lashes out at civilization and airs all his own discontents, there is Harvey (Rob Riley), older brother to Neville and Phyllis - a former military man who supplies his nieces and nephews with the gift of guns.

 

First produced in 1980, just as the whole notion of dysfunctional holiday stories came into vogue, "Season's Greetings" is a model of the form, with equal measures of bittersweet truth, long-simmering resentment, classic sex farce and pure wacko behavior part of the recipe. The whole thing goes on far too long. but watching this plum pudding of a cast is a gift all its own.

 

 

Read the full review on SunTimes.com

 

 


 

Season’s Greetings at Northlight Theatre | Theater review

Northlight’s power-packed production of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1980 comedy brings a little welcome acidity to the glut of holiday theater.

TIME OUT CHICAGO
November 23, 2011
by OLIVER SAVA

 


In the swarm of Christmas Carol adaptations and feel-good holiday shows, it's refreshing to see a production that highlights the frustration and irritation of Christmas with the family. Competing neuroses, long-term grudges and habitual drinking are at the center of Alan Ayckbourn's 1980 comedy, and the playwright's ability to find humor in his characters' vices and weaknesses creates a story that's simultaneously depressing and hilarious.

 

There are no children in Ayckbourn's play, but the adults are plenty immature by themselves. Neville (Matt Schwader) ignores wife Belinda's (Heidi Kettenring) personal revelations because he's focused on a toy, gun-obsessed uncle Harvey (Rob Riley) can't be budged from in front of the TV, and incompetent doctor/husband Bernard (Francis Guinan) throws a temper tantrum when his puppet show doesn't go as tediously planned. Bernard's puppet show is the comic and emotional highlight of the production, the moment when director BJ Jones strikes the ideal balance of psychological depth and farcical humor. Guinan performs Bernard's "Three Little Pigs" with passion and commitment, and his dedication to the material creates an honest foundation for his ensuing breakdown.

 

 

Read the full review on TimeOut.com

 

 


 

Season’s Greetings at Northlight Theatre | Theater review

CHICAGO READER
November, 2011
By JACK HELBIG


Recommended

 

Director B.J. Jones gracefully negotiates the tight twists and turns of Alan Ayckbourn's sly, dark holiday comedy. Led by Rob Riley as the half-mad patriarch and Francis Guinan as his eccentric, ineffectual son-in-law, the cast realize each member of a dysfunctional, middle-class British family with virtuosic skill. And Heidi Kettenring supplies an outright star turn as a desperate housewife who falls for her sister's beau. Most impressive of all, though, is the skillful way in which Jones and company keep the story going without giving the bums rush to Ayckbourn's leisurely rhythms.

 

 

Read the full review on ChicagoReader.com

 

 


 

In Northlight's 'Season's Greetings' the casting beats the script

MAKE IT BETTER
November, 2011

By ROBERT LOERZEL

 

The sprawling cast of characters in "Season's Greetings" includes a dashing young novelist, who says his writing is "painfully witty or wittily painful-I forget which."

 

That's also an apt description of what British playwright Alan Ayckbourn was aiming for with "Season's Greetings"-a mix of humor and pathos.

 

The play has plenty of both, and a wonderful ensemble does its utmost to provoke all the appropriate laughs and winces in artistic director B.J. Jones' current production at Northlight Theatre. Unfortunately, Ayckbourn's script is marred by shallow character development and clunky turns of plot.

 

So what's to like? One of Chicago's best actors, Francis Guinan, manages to make us feel pity for his puppet-obsessed character. The delightful Rob Riley provides comic relief as a crotchety old uncle. Heidi Kettenring is frisky and sexy as the hostess, who shows a little too much interest in her sister's new beau.

 

 

Read the full review on MakeItBetter.com

 

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