"Season's Greetings" Review - Northlight Theatre's Holiday Offering

Just in time for the holiday season comes Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings at Northlight Theatre, directed by Artistic Director BJ Jones. Though the play, centered around an English family’s Christmas get together, is billed as a comedy, to me it really is something of a dramedy, for there is plenty of drama in this play as well, albeit small dramas of the variety that tend to occur in a family when they are cooped up together from Christmas Eve through Boxing Day and unresolved issues abound.

John Byrnes (Eddie) and Heidi Kettenring (Belinda)

Among the attendees of this little get together are three married couples: Belinda (Heidi Kettenring) and Neville (Matt Schwader) – who also are the hosts of said get together -- Pattie (Maggie Kettering) and Eddie (John Byrnes) and Bernard (Francis Guinan) and Phyllis (Amy J. Carle); along with Belinda and Neville’s children, Pattie and Eddie’s children (none of whom appear on stage), Belinda’s sister Rachel (Ginger Lee McDermott), Rachel’s friend Clive (Steve Haggard), and (last but most certainly not least) Neville and Phyllis’s brother Harvey (Rob Riley).

John Byrnes (Eddie), Matt Schwader (Neville) and Amy J. Carle (Phyllis)

While the idea is to celebrate a traditional Christmas together, as a family, it quickly becomes apparent that, to a certain extent, it’s just that… an idea. In short order Neville and Eddie go off to do their own thing, tinkering with broken items, seeing if they can’t get them working again; Harvey is off in his own little world watching some violent television program. Meanwhile Belinda and Pattie are left to try to deal with their children all on their own, without any help whatsoever from their husbands, who it would seem would much rather spend time with one another. Rachel, for her part, is forced to deal with her seemingly confused (and, some might say, confusing) relationship with her friend Clive, an author.

Matt Schwader (Neville), Steve Haggard (Clive), Francis Guinan (Bernard) and Ginger Lee McDermott (Rachel)

As time goes by we learn that many of the problems exhibited during this reunion of sorts merely mirrors what goes on at home. Neville and Eddie both prefer to spend time away from home. This leaves Belinda and Pattie to take care of their home and children, practically on their own. This understandably leads to a strain in both Neville and Belinda and Eddie and Pattie’s relationships. Neville is so preoccupied by everything else that even when Belinda talks to him he only seems to be devoting half his attention to what she’s saying, if that much.
When he’s asked to do complete one task (related to the Christmas get together at their house), he completely neglects to do so.

Steve Haggard (Clive) and Rob Riley (Harvey)

The disconnect between Neville and Belinda is only made that much more obvious when she meets Clive and has a chance to speak with him. Unlike her husband, Clive pays attention when she’s speaking. She can (and does) have a real conversation with him. The fact that Clive listens and is attentive makes him extremely attractive to Belinda, an attraction that she doesn’t hide very well. 

Bernard and Phyllis also have a somewhat odd relationship. Phyllis is an alcoholic whom Bernard, a doctor (albeit not a very good one, even by his own admission) must look after at all times. If the opportunity to drink were to arise (as it does while she is cooking the Christmas dinner), she takes it. Unlike Neville and Belinda and Pattie and Eddie, Bernard and Phyllis never had children, due in large part to the tremendous effort (on Bernard’s part) it takes merely to care for Phyllis, to whom he is devoted – or perhaps he’s just merely gotten used to the same routine.

Rob Riley (Harvey) and Francis Guinan (Bernard)

Bernard and Harvey are also frequently at odds about just about everything. Harvey feels that Bernard’s annual holiday puppet shows that he puts on for the children should come to an end, particularly after last year’s show which felt like it would never come to an end. Harvey announces to Bernard that he has bought the children presents – guns – for this Christmas, which Bernard (rightly) feels are unsafe and inappropriate gifts.

Francis Guinan (Bernard) and Maggie Kettering (Pattie)

While I did enjoy Season’s Greetings, I have to say that if you are one of those people who absolutely has to have some sort of resolution, you might just be a bit disappointed. While everyone knows that their relationships are strained and a bit dysfunctional, for the most part they continue to approach their relationships the same ways they had initially, which gives you a feeling that they’re never going to break out of this cycle they seem to be perpetually caught in. Even though the play starts out a bit slowly, once the pace picks up a bit Season’s Greetings proves to be an enjoyable show.

Rob Riley (Harvey), Maggie Kettenring (Belinda), Francis Guinan (Bernard), John Byrnes (Eddie) and Matt Schwader (Neville)

Season’s Greetings is currently scheduled to run through December 18, 2011. Curtain times are Tuesdays at 7:30 PM (except November 29 and December 13), Wednesdays at 1:00 PM (except November 30) and 7:30 PM (except December 7), Thursdays at 7:30 PM (except November 24), Fridays at 8:00 PM (except Opening on November 18, at 7:30 PM), Saturdays at 2:30 PM (except November 12) and 8:00 PM, and Sundays at 2:30 PM and 7:00 PM (except November 20, December 4 and December 18). Northlight Theatre is located at The North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie. To purchase tickets to Season's Greetings log onto the Northlight Theatre website, www.northlight.org, or call the Box Office at 847-673-6300. To learn more about Northlight Theatre, the rest of the 2011-2012 season, or any special events associated with this production, log onto the theatre’s website, www.northlight.org.


Production Photos: Michael Brosilow




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