Season’s Greetings

By Alan Ayckbourn

Seasons Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn
Seasons Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by BJ Jones

At Northlight Theatre, Skokie

British dysfunctional family holiday comedy garners few laughs

Featuring a terrific cast of “A” list Chicago Equity actors giving the material every opportunity to shine, British playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s 1980 holiday comedy come off as a trite, cliche-ridden family saga. Season’s Greeting finds an extended family struggling to make their annual holiday traditions enjoyable.

We meet the Bunker clan and follow them through Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day as they¬† bicker, drunk and eat their way through the holidays. Filled with dated and British holiday references, Season’s Greeting is a standard dysfunctional holiday family comedy very similar to fare we see on the BBC.

In Belinda (Heidi Kettenring) and Neville’s (Matt Schwader) house, the clan gathers. Uncle Harvey (Rob Riley) watches a violent movie on the TV while nerdy Bernard (Francis Guinan) helps his wife Phyllis (Amy Carle) prepare dinner. Eddie (John Byrne) and his very pregnant wife Pattie (Maggie Kettering) try hard to function. Both Eddie and Neville work hard to ignore their wives. Rachel (Ginger Lee McDermott), the unmarried sister of Belinda has a guest, Clive (Steve Haggard), a novelist with whom she shyly desires.

Seasons Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn

Much of the comedy revolves around standard family traditions. The humor is based on the quirks of the family members. The 85 minute first act shows us each character warts and all. The younger married couples ignore each other, while the older ones do weird things like Bernard’s annual puppet show. When Clive arrives as fresh meat for the lonely, love-starved women, the action, fueled by drink, accelerates.

Seasons Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn

Much of the humor is either lost as too dated or too British not because the terrific cast didn’t work the script for all it contains- they sure did! The main problem with Season’s Greeting lies with Ayckbourn’s script. It plays like a BBC sitcom that simply isn’t too funny. The opening night audience found about half laughing some of the time but few belly laughs were heard. I think the sophisticated Northlight audience have seen similar holiday shows thus deluding the humor as many of the situations were quite predictable. The puppet scenes droned on as the laughs erode in act two. The show ends abruptly with a strangely dark scenes that I found perplexing.

Seasons Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn

Still, with a terrific cast – especially Rob Riley, Francis Guinan, Ginger Lee McDermott and Steve Haggard –Season’s Greeting has enough funny moments to be mildly entertaining. For those who like British humor, this show will be a holiday treat.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: November 18, 2011

For full show information, visit TheatreInChicago.

At Northlight Theatre, 9502 N. Skokie Blvd, Skokie, IL, call 847-673-6300, www.northlight.org, tickets $25 – $60, Tuesday at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 1 & 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7 pm, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission, through December 18, 2011