The warning signs were there: a Christmas-themed play filled with arguing relatives, use of the word "heartwarming" in the Weekly's listings synopsis, a Magical Retarded Kid character that could have easily turned this into more of a comedy than intended.
Yet we actually kind of liked this Vanguard production of Tom Dudzick's Greetings!—simplistic though it may be in its variation on the old guess-who's-coming-to-dinner theme. Instead of race, though, the familial tension here is all about religion: Catholic-raised Andy (Brandon Kasper) brings his fianc, Randi (Coreen Milstein), home for Christmas to meet the family—chirpy mom (Joan Meissenburg); cranky, bigoted dad (John Bolen); and Andy's mentally challenged brother, Micky (Marcus Slane). But the parents freak when they find out Randi is (duhn-duhn-duuuhn!) . . . a JEW! And not a mere Jew, but a Jew-turned-atheist, who not only doesn't celebrate the birth of baby Jesus, but also doesn't even light the menorah! Craaazy!
Andy's pop is especially bitchy about all this, even after Randi explains the tragedy that made her disregard her faith. Much screaming ensues, until Micky—who until this point spoke only like, you know, a retarded kid—suddenly starts channeling an aged, Brit-accented spirit named Lucius, who comes off sounding an awful lot like Stewie from Family Guy. Lucius, much like the ghosts in A Christmas Carol, has come to teach Important Life Lessons about family and how you shouldn't want to kill people just because you think your God can beat up theirs.
Yeah, so it's sort of like a bad made-for-Lifetime movie. But we do like certain aspects, such as how parents shouldn't force onto their kids the same religious beliefs they have—they should be free to make up their own minds about life and death and God because otherwise they'll just become royally screwed-up (clearly Catholicism hasn't done shit for Andy's old man, who's just a hateful, intolerant assmunch). We also like Lucius' comments about how people have used religion and the fear of an unseen, all-knowing overlord throughout human history to rule people, largely for political reasons—kind of like what happened this past Election Day.
To us, this is Theology 101. But we love the thought that in the blood-red Chick-fil-A states, an otherwise ordinary play like Greetings!—with its promotion of free thinking and open-mindedness—still has the potential to piss some people off.
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GREETINGS! AT THE VANGUARD THEATER ENSEMBLE, 120-A W. WILSHIRE AVE., FULLERTON, (714) 526-8007; WWW.VTE.ORG. THURS.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 2 P.M. THROUGH JAN. 2. $18-$23.