SHOWING : November 08, 2007 - November 25, 2007
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The merry days of Christmas are thrown into witty chaos in this side-splitting comedy set in the suburban British home of Neville and Belinda as they attempt to celebrate the holidays with family and friends. The hilarious antics include a disastrous puppet show, a drunken game of "Snakes & Ladders," and a romantic tryst thwarted by a toy clanging monkey under the Christmas tree.
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Wednesday, November 28, 2007 ||
I was a bit confused after seeing Georgia Ensemble’s lively and funny production of Alan Ayckbourn’s “Season’s Greetings.” I enjoyed it, laughed a lot, and respected most of the performances and design. But I didn’t love it. In fact, I thought the last scene went down as badly as an E-Coli Turkey with Ebola Stuffing (well, maybe not that badly, but you get my point).|
Scratching my head, I pulled out an old video of the play I taped off A&E twenty years ago, and rewatched it. In this case, I didn’t laugh as much, but I liked it more, even loved it. This time, I found the last scene both suspenseful and moving. That to me was the key. What we have here is a Comedy of Manners, which, at Georgia Ensemble, was directed and (in some cases) played as if it were a farce. Not a fatal error, surely (as you can tell by my grade), but one that merits comment, if not analysis.
The key to farce is desperation. A character has done something he or she is desperate to keep from others. Emotions and reactions go wildly over the top, and realism goes out the window in an ever-increasing frenzy of steps and missteps. In a farce, the more over-the-top, the better.
On the other hand, Comedy of Manners requires a gentler touch. The comedy comes from recognizing traits in the characters that are put to the test. We tend to smile at their foibles more than to laugh out loud at their antics. And, a Comedy of Manners is never afraid to toss in some irony to appeal to a deeper, often sadder, emotion. In a nutshell, a farce is a roller coaster ride of laughs and slapstick and perfect comedic timing. A Comedy of Manners is a gentler ride, but one that can take you to a deeper place, one that can move your heart as well as tickle your funny bone.
“Season’s Greetings” is a classic Comedy of Manners (as are all of Ayckbourn’s plays, even the deceptively titled "Bedroom Farce"). A collection of family and friends has gathered for the holidays. A stranger comes into their midst, and causes a sudden infatuation that threatens to tear apart the easy emotional accommodations everyone has made. We see the stuff that tears at the bonds of long-married couples and families. We see the quick hurts and emotional band-aids that pass for daily discourse. We see the affections that have degenerated into habits. And we see the gentle ironies of deep confessions followed by glib denials. Yes, there is some desperation here, but it is a more profound desperation arising from long-unspoken resentments and casual oversights, not the quick “we-have-to-fix-this-now” desperation of a farce situation coming apart at the seams.
My main problem with the Georgia Ensemble production is that, in the rush for the quick farcical laughs, the gentle ironies were overlooked. We laugh when a husband casually neglects his wife. What we don’t see is the long-standing bonds that, under other circumstances, would help them survive this weekend. We’re given four scenes of breakneck and hilarious laughs, then a fifth scene that, rather than going for the deeper emotions caused by quiet irony, falls flat with enforced humor that diffuses the drama of a potentially tragic situation, and does not sell the “all will not be well after this” ending that should have happened.
My reactions to the cast were also mixed. I loved Chris Ensweiler’s Clive, the “stranger in our midst.” He seemed to know what was expected, and toned down his normal “out there” antics in favor of a well-developed character who responded realistically to all the upheaval going on. Mr. Ensweiler is essentially a character actor here playing a credible romantic lead. And he clicks in every scene he’s in.
I also liked Bill Murphey and Shelley McCook as the eccentric Bernard and Phyllis. Ms. McCook’s scene with Mr. Ensweiler was particularly well-done, with laughs arising from real interactions between characters, not through extraneous schtick or “comic bits.” Mr. Murphey’s puppet show was also a masterpiece of comic invention and character-inspired laughs.
Dori Garziano and Mark Pitt also chose to effectively underplay as Belinda and Neville. My main problem with them is that there was no subtext to their relationship. I didn’t get the sense they were a long-married couple going through a bad spot, I heard only the surface bickering tensions that are in the script. Again, this would have been the right choice if this were a farce, but not so much here. (I also thought they came across as far too young, but that may be just my reading of script.)
I really disliked Peter Thomasson’s Harvey, the “old man” of the group. It was as if he were in a completely different play – every line, every gesture was way over the top in a collection of schtick and mannerisms designed to draw laughs. Nothing he did or said made me believe he was a real person interacting with other real people. He seemed to treat his role in the final scene as just another joke, not as the catalyst for tragedy. And, more telling, I didn't find his schtick particularly funny.
The others (Kristi Casey, Scott Warren, and Megan Hayes) were also fine, seemingly playing real people and not puppets of a farce (if you’ll forgive the ironic metaphor).
The set worked really well, showing three rooms in a seemingly unified space. The design made one scene (in which Belinda must relay a conversation between Eddie and Pattie) seem less the logistics joke that was in the video, and more an expression of a “we’re-not-talking-to-each-other moment” that worked really well. If the lights jarred occasionally (big window gobos in what were supposed to be night scenes, and a back hall shadow right underneath the apparent light source), they weren’t a distraction. And I loved the use of songs to cover scene shifts – they may have made the evening a bit longer, but they did not overstay their welcome.
The irony here is that I have often taken directors to task for “not getting” farce. Here is a case, where farcical elements were tossed onto a play that didn’t require them. Yes, it made the play funnier and faster-paced than if it had been directed in a more naturalistic Comedy of Manners style. But it also made the last scene confuse and irritate, when it should have been moving and even a bit sad. Genre Confusion, Indeed!
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
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Sunday, November 18, 2007 ||
The puppet show was so great - what a brilliant device that Bill Murphey came up with! Bill had the best lines and we were like, OMG, he is so funny. |
Dori and Chris Ensweiler's scene of making out at the end of act one was also way-cool - we nearly died when the rest of the family were revealed at the top of the stairs looking down at the the pair - OMG!
We really laughed at this show - so much that we were so glad that we took acid tabs - OMG - did we have an attack or what. We were like - what's up with our stomachs man - we laughed so hard at that little dog Waggims that we nearly vented.
There are cool bags for sale after the show also which we bought. Maybe other theatres could sell bags advertising their shows - or even posters or stuff. What a great idea as now I will never forget this show.
Pete Thommasso's character work was ebulient and we absolutely split our sides when he pulled the knife out at Clive. Chris's face was a picture and he is a brilliant acter. Pete's acting was also just brilliant. Way cool. Pete should act more as he is wasted just doing one show this year.
Mark Pitt was alright as Neville but it just seemed as though he was playing himself. He threw lines away and it was like he phoned it in. Dori was good and really got pissed at Nev for good reason. Nev is a chauvanistic man who is interested only in his monkey so obviously she would be bored and want sex with Clive (Chris E in rare form). I loved Rachel (Casey) and I loved Scott as Edward.
Shelly McCook deserves an oscar for this play and Megan Hayes is really cute in the role of Pat.
Hey - was Shannon Eubanks (dir) in a soap? [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
| || Seasons by ahoss|
| Shannon Eubanks was in "Loving" FYI. |
| || by GSpelvin|
| Dear ahoss, OMG - the cast of SEASON'S GREETINGS would like to thank you for your kind words. We read your review before today's matinee, and reread it, and reread it, and were more delighted every time. Thanks for making what's already been a thoroughly enjoyable experience even more so.|
| || Thank you by ahoss|
| Dear Spelvin, |
Thank you for thanking me for my review. I totally enjoyed the show and my friend and I are still talking about it and we may come again - such was the genius of Bill's puppet show - Pig 1 - Pig 1 - utter joy - Pig 1 !!!!!!!!! OMG - such brilliant acting from Peter and Bill. P.S - was Scott's finger really in shot when he said 'that is my finger?' - we only saw Megan - please confirm.
We are off to Christmas Carol at the Allience soon - again - yawm - yawn - Chris and Neil - again - OMG - please do something like different - like Season's Greetings. So, although I have to sit through another performance of CC (free tickets help), I will be thinking of you all!
Thank you SO MUCH for replying to my review. I am thinking of submitting to a few newspapers to review some stuff in Atlanta - you are not the first to have commented as to the integritous nature of my writing and so maybe you will be seeing me in print soon. Hey - anything is better than the 'critics' that we have. For crying out loud - the Sunday Arts and Books section of the AJC might as well be re-titled movie-listings and a few ads. What a non-newspaper that is. I am tried of poor grammer and shoddy critics.
| || Yes, Scott's thumb did have a starring role .... by KristiCasey|
Scott's thumb indeed is in full view when Phyllis mistakes it for a caterpillar. The genius of the man is underrated in my opinion.
Kristi, not Kristy, Casey (whoever that is)
| || Thank for confirmation by ahoss|
| Dear Kristi - Thank you SOOOO MUCH for that. The thumb was not visible enough from where we were sitting and we felt short-changed when Scott said 'that is my thumb' and there was no thumb to be seen - a moment missed or just a sight-line thing I guess. |
Is this line actually scripted? My friend seems to think that it is not? Also, was the Pig 1 / Pig 3 confusion scripted or did Bill just cover Megan actually handing him the wrong pig? Obviously, with Megan being flustered at the time, we could see how she, maybe, got it all wrong - still, it was funny.
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