Christmas comes but once a year with good reason, as Alan Ayckbourn’s dark comedy, “Season’s Greetings,” put on by The Wellesley Summer Theatre Company, reminds us.
Everything about the setting and circumstances seems typically English — relatives are gathered to celebrate Christmas. There is a well-stocked home bar and a nearby pub, which, under ordinary circumstances, should be enough to bubble everybody along through three days of closeness. The Christmas tree, given pride of place, of course, towers over wrapped gifts of the noisy variety.
The adults claim to have given themselves over to the idea that Christmas is for children, after all, so what’s a bit of clamor and a few toy guns thrown in for good measure? The audience is given to understand that there are plenty of children around, but we never see them. Or not the chronologically aged ones, anyway. The actual appearance of any children, and their accompanying antics would tip the play into full-out chaos. Since the adults in this holiday fiasco hog up all the childish behavior for themselves, there is no need to completely exhaust the audience with the spectre of real children.
As the play moves along, each of the nine adults reveals their inner child, and a spoiled child it is. Belinda, the lady of the house played by Ashley Gramolini, mood swings between martrydom and VERY warmly welcoming her sister’s love interest to her home. As Belinda’s determination grows to seduce (attack?) Clive, played by Dan Roach, she lets nothing stand in her way, not even her sister, who is, literally, standing in her way. Clive may as well be a swing at the playground that Belinda is determined to have, and her sister, played by Christine Hamel, a not-very formidable obstacle.
Bernard, played by Derek Stone Nelson, effectively takes the play to its emotionally darkest place, even as the room itself is at its brightest and most cheerful. As he becomes more bungling and short-tempered during dress rehearsal for a puppet show, his yearly contribution to seasonal jolliness, he turns on his allies with contempt he should reserve for his foes. Finally, all are either against him, disgusted by his behavior, or sobbing.
As the family members interfere with and tear each other’s projects apart, be they wrapped presents or dinner preparations, the audience would not be surprised if, when the Boxing Day scene came around, things suddenly got very literal and the set was actually transformed into a ring. The action goes futher than that, however, and Clive, dressed in grey in the early scenes, and looking perhaps a bit like the big bad wolfe in Bernard’s puppet show, may end up the scapegoat in family lore for this Christmas that won’t soon be forgotten.
Director: Shelley Bolman
Designers: Ken Loewit (lighting design)
David Towlun (scenic design)
George Cooke (sound design)
Nora Hussey (directing consultant)
Ticket prices are $20 general admission and $10 for seniors and students
The play runs until Jan. 29 on Thursdays-Sundays at the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre at Wellesley College