Curtain Call Has a Gift this Season with “Greetings”

“Greetings” by Tom Dudzick is a crowd-pleasing family comedy that is hard not to love. It has a warm living room (set by Andrew Mannion, lighting by Paul Raddassao) decorated for the holidays, a recently engaged couple visiting Mom and Dad and younger son, the intellectually disabled Mickey, and a close Christmas Eve dinner of meatloaf at the Gorski’s house in Pittsburgh.

All should be calm and bright, right? Not so fast.

The prospective bride Randi Stein (a most welcome return for the lovely Sarah Wasserbach) is quickly revealed to be Jewish, but now considers herself to be an atheist; the loud, proud bigot of a father, Phil Gorski (Steve Leifer in fine form) cannot let this pass. Tensions flare. The adult Mickey who doesn’t speak beyond “Oh wow!” and gurgling busies himself with the nativity figures, his plans for next week’s wrestling match or squeals of delight at stray comments that bring him pleasure-Dairy Queen, ornaments, baked apples. The peace-making mother Emily (Susan Dantz) tries her best and the beleaguered son Andy (Chad Reid doing a yeoman’s job) bends over backwards to accommodate and placate until he snaps, which Reid does quite convincingly and affectingly, and orders a cab to deliver he and his fiancée from the intolerant closed mindedness of this particular house of white patriarchy and oppression. Things have reached a breaking point and it will take a Christmas miracle to bring the family together!

At Sunday’s matinee, the audience was delighted with the playwright’s invention and the playing of the deus ex machina. The audience ate the entire play up with a spoon, cheered and applauded specific lines and gave the cast a well-deserved standing ovation. Kris Anderson, a regular on Curtain Call’s stage (he played Mickey in their previous production of “Greetings” 16 years ago) has steered his cast nimbly through the tricky beats of anger and transformative grace without ever getting too ugly or preachy. I was never repulsed or fed up with these characters. I ended up caring for everyone a great deal and they earn the final tableau which is a picture perfect Christmas Card I was thrilled to receive.

Steve Leifer has become a mainstay on the Curtain Call stage, and I’m hesitant to say that this role is a good fit for him because Phil Gorski is right on the edge of being deplorable. He has a powerful voice and he doesn’t shy away from the character’s uglier aspects. Upon hearing that his son Andy is bringing home someone named Randi, he offers up the homophobic “If I see two men get out of the cab, I’m leaving.” His softening shift late in the play is received with appreciation and relief by both the play’s characters and the audience.

Susan Dantz gets better and better with every succeeding role and after her strong performance as Viney in ACT’s “The Heiress” delivers an even more assured performance here as Emily Gorski. She is all solicitousness and worry about her husband’s bruised ego and bluster, working overtime to make everyone happy. Her dithering and open affection for her family are most convincing and received an exceptionally strong kinship with the matinee ladies. Ms. Dantz does double duty here also serving as the show’s costume designer and I thought everybody was dressed thoughtfully and appropriately.

I have thought Ryan Palmer has been one of the funniest actors in the Capital Region for a number of years now since I saw a Ghost of Christmas Present he played for CTG a number of years ago. I still remember his hula dance to Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.” He has worked steadily this year at Capital Repertory Theatre (underused in “Shakespeare in Love”) and The Theater Barn in New Lebanon in a very good “Moonlight and Magnolias.” The character offers a wide range of expression and he dives in and makes a feast of it. He is an exceptionally funny actor but it’s not all laughs. He has great concentration, he’s always listening and he maximizes every moment he’s onstage. It’s lovely watching someone have so much fun onstage. He is having a ball playing this role!

The play wanders for a bit in the second act, the lead actor has a repetitive gesture with his hands and could use more variety and not all the accepting messages are as fresh as needed in these perilous times but it never overstays its welcome and an accepting, generous message is delivered in under two hours. Curtain Call Theatre is batting 1000 this season after “Broadway Bound,” “The Outsider” and this. The pressure’s on me directing their next production, “Ben Butler” opening 1/23. I would strongly recommend you get tickets for this expertly played and produced holiday heart warmer while there are any still available.

Through 12/21

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