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.
The addition of outsider Clive (Steve Haggard), a humor novelist, is the unknown variable that brings sex into the equation. Haggard’s strong sexual and comic chemistry with Kettenring makes the ending of Act I a turbulent flurry of erotic physical comedy. Their brief flash of intimacy awakens a house full of passionless relationships, but like the holiday season, the change doesn’t last for long.