If you enjoy watching fabulous actors maneuver through uninspired, tedious dialogue, and if you’re enchanted by labyrinthine plots with zero payoff, then Laguna Playhouse’s production of Bernard Farrell’s Yuletide comedy Many Happy Returns—the American premiere—is the play for you.
Set in a rural Irish home at Christmastime and directed by company artistic director Andrew Barnicle, Returns centers on a family working out what it means to be a family at Christmas. But it’s not edgy enough to be interesting or wholesome enough to be heartwarming.
The action takes place in the home of Matty (Nick Ullett), an aging father whose wife, Gladys (Robin Pearson Rose), is a globetrotter and whose adult daughter Irene (Susan Duerden) and her out-of-work husband, Arthur (Barry Lynch), have taken over his home, turning it into a gaudy holiday wonderland. The play opens on Irene and Arthur preparing for the arrival of Irene’s childhood neighbor and Arthur’s past student Declan (Brendan Ford) and his wife, Amanda (Melanie Lora), who come bearing tales of Declan’s commercial success in New Zealand. Arthur and Irene want to impress Declan, in hopes he will offer Arthur an executive position in his supermarket empire.
Within this overly busy framework, the ensemble of talented and distinguished actors takes on the play’s inane dialogue, including Arthur and Irene’s constant bickering, Matty’s dopey belligerence, Declan’s attempt to maintain his bravado, and Amanda’s marveling at the home’s positive Feng Shui “ihnurgee” (Kiwi for energy). They unearth some engaging moments from the convoluted script—most notably between the estranged Gladys and Matty—but the play’s few funny moments are rarely dramatized onstage: most materialize when a character recounts something that happened or is happening offstage.
Which is where you should be: away from the stage, unless you take your holiday cheer with a heaping spoonful of discontent—and a dash of pale male bum.
MANY HAPPY RETURNS AT LAGUNA pLAYHOUSE, 606 LAGUNA CANYON RD., LAGUNA BEACH, (949) 497-2787. thurs., ?dec. 1 & Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; fri. & Tues.-Thurs., Dec. 8, 8 p.m.; SAT., 2 & 8 P.M. THRoUgh ?DEC. 18. $20-$59.