The Live Review
Ebenezer Scrooge had his old-fashioned Victorian ghosts. George Bailey had his guardian angel Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
For the Gorski family on Christmas Eve in modern-day Pittsburgh, they get a New Age-y entity named Cassandra.
Such is the scenario of “Greetings,” a 1990 comedy by Tom Dudzick that’s being staged by the Flagler Playhouse in Bunnell through Nov. 22.
While “Greetings” doesn’t succeed in making our hearts grow two sizes too big like those other holiday classics, only a Grinch would say it’s not a pleasant Yuletide diversion.
The Gorski clan doesn’t face the same metaphysical straits as Scrooge or George, but family dysfunctions have frazzled Phil (played by Everett Clark), the devout Catholic, Archie Bunker-ish father; Emily (Robin Davis), the long-suffering and almost-as-devout mom; and Andy (Bruce Popielarski), their wearied adult son.
Only adult daughter Mickey (Jenica Frederickson) seems free from the family drama, even when her dad bluntly reassures Emily that Mickey’s behavior is normal because “She’s retarded — she’s supposed to act strange.”
When Andy brings his Jewish, atheist fiancee, Randi (Raquel Schenone), home on Christmas Eve to meet his parents, the rosary beads hit the fan: Phil literally calls “bullshit” on Randi’s lack of faith.
But Christmas Eve turns strange not because of Phil’s stone-hard, stone-casting faith, and not because Mickey’s only verbalizations besides “Wow” and “Oh boy” are lion-like growls meant to playfully scare her beloved brother.
Rather, the night turns strange when Cassandra shows up in the most mysterious of ways — well, mysterious for anyone unfamiliar with the likes of Ramtha or Lazaris.
Like Scrooge’s ghosts and George Bailey’s Clarence, Cassandra has arrived to show the Gorskis and Randi the light. Unlike the ghosts and Clarence, Cassandra wants to talk her charges into enlightenment rather than show them the first steps on that path and allow them to walk there themselves.
While Cassandra tosses out a few tart-tongued lines, she favors such bromides as: “See your lives with a fresh pair of eyes.”
And so Cassandra ultimately lacks the heart of Clarence or the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present, and she thus functions like little more than a New Age deus ex machina.
Which is a shame. With a bit more finesse and less reliance on Oprah-ish platitudes, Dudzick could have fashioned Cassandra into a crazy wisdom teacher able to trick us mere mortals into enlightenment.
With a bit more derring-do, Dudzick could have gone even further and explored the nature of religious belief in the United States.
Ours is a society in which so-called “New Age beliefs” are dismissed casually or even snidely. Anyone who talks about Space Brothers arriving on a comet will likely draw snickers or be slapped with the “C” word — cult.
Anyone whose spiritual path includes communicating with the deceased, such as the Spiritualists in Cassadega, will likely draw odd glances.
Any Buddhist of the Mahyana or Vajravana path who mentions the “wrathful deities” — with their kapalas (human skull cups) filled with blood — will likely witness a hasty retreat by anyone within listening range.
And yet who is dismissing these so-called “minority religions”?
It could be a Phil-like Catholic who believes, through the miracle of transubstantiation, that the Eucharist wine and wafer he consumed last Sunday wasn’t merely symbolic of the blood and body of Christ, but became the actual blood and body of Christ.
Or, more to the point given the Christmas setting of Dudzick’s play, those dismissive of the miracles of “minority” faiths could be one of the millions of Americans who believe the son of their deity was borne by a virgin woman some 2000 years ago.
When Phil encounters the miraculous appearance of Cassandra in his home, he beats a hasty retreat to summon his parish priest to perform an exorcism.
But it’s a pity we don’t see Phil grappling with the metaphysical-cognitive dissonance playing out right before his lying eyes — a devout Catholic witnessing a decidedly un-Catholic miracle.
But Dudzick either lacked such ambitions, or was unable to fulfill them.
That said, the Flagler Playhouse cast brings gusto to their roles, especially to the Christmas Eve dinner scene where Phil lets his “bullshit” fly.
Elsewhere Clark’s verve rescues the sullen, bark-mouthed Phil from becoming a cliché, and Popielarski brings a goofy man-boy charm to his role as Andy.
And big props go to Jenica Frederickson as the mentally challenged Mickey, a role originally written for a male. (And kudos to director John Pope for daring to make the switch after Frederickson indicated her interest in the role.)
Though Mickey has the fewest lines of the evening, Frederickson keeps her facial expressions constantly in play. That’s a tip for theater-goers: No matter who’s speaking at any one moment during the play, be sure to glance Mickey’s way.
“Greetings!” is indeed a pleasant holiday diversion. But one will leave the theater thinking it had the potential to have been one miraculous play.
–Rick de Yampert for FlaglerLive
“Greetings,” a comedy by Tom Dudzick, will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Saturday Nov. 14, and at 2 p.m. Sunday Nov. 15 at the Flagler Playhouse, 301 E. Moody Blvd., Bunnell. Additional performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20-21 and 2 p.m. Nov. 22. Admission is $20 adults, $15 students younger than 21 with ID. For information call 386-586-0773 or go online at flaglerplayhouse.com.