The holiday season has, at this point in the history of human civilization, become one giant cliché—one easily exploited for pathos, but with less and less for artists to draw on for genuine inspiration. As the air cools, the only sure thing is that the next two months of American culture will be geared toward yanking your heartstrings—and if your heart doesn't ache? Man, you're a sociopath.
The Long Beach Playhouse's production of Tom Dudzick's Greetings aims to kick this season of canned acceptance and frozen miracles off with a gentle bang—but suffers from a script that seems all too familiar in its setup and a little too flimsy in its conclusion. It begins as Andy, a Catholic, brings his fiancee Randi, a lapsed Jew, home for the holidays to meet his disgruntled working class Catholic father, his traditional Catholic mother, and his developmentally disabled younger brother Mickey.
As anyone who is familiar with the Holiday genre might imagine, there is some initial friction as cultures clash, though this is soon disrupted when Andy's younger brother begins to channel a spirit whom he has summoned to Earth—in an effort to warm our hearts and teach the dinner guests a lesson about the nature of faith, God and past-life regression like some kind of Santa Cruz street guru. By the end of the play, faith has been returned to all, as Mickey has learned to traverse the ethereal plane and Lucius, the spirit who possessed him, has earned his wings. Or perhaps that was It's a Wonderful Life. I'm having trouble keeping track at this point.
There are several things to admire about Greetings. Harriet Whitmyer and Hugo E. Paez's performances as Andy's parents are far better than the script demands, and the set design is excellent, for what it's worth. (Almost nothing.) But the issues Greetings confronts are too complex to be wrapped up so neatly, and it does them a real disservice with its pat, trite handling. In honor of the season, I should point out that the play is geared more toward a much less cynical demographic than mine—and that the bulk of the audience at Sunday's matinee seemed to find it quite enjoyable. Maybe next year Santa can bring a better script and we can all be satisfied.
GREETINGS AT THE LONG BEACH PLAYHOUSE, 5021 E. ANAHEIM ST., LONG BEACH (562) 494-1014; WWW.LBPH.COM. FRI. & SAT. THROUGH DEC. 16, 8 P.M.; SUN. THROUGH DEC. 3, 2 P.M. $10-$20.