‘Greetings,” an offbeat comedy by Tom Dudzick (his first off-Broadway play), now playing at the Off-Broadstreet Theater in Hopewell, is unusual to say the least.
The set, at first glance, appears conventionally realistic — a living room and dining area bedecked for Christmas with a decorated tree and colored lights, windows adorned with snowflakes and tiny Christmas lights, a small table with an incomplete Christmas scene. Yet, midway through, the play takes off from realism.
Off in a small area the stage is psychologically set by the conversation of a young couple, sitting in a pair of seats on an airplane that is heading to Pittsburgh. Andy Gorski (Matt Lafargue), raised in a strongly Catholic family is bringing his fiance, Randi Stein (Laura Chaneski), who was raised Jewish but has chosen to be an atheist, home this Christmas Eve to meet his Catholic family. If only you were Jewish, Andy muses, telling Randi that in his childhood the nuns really made you believe in miracles and that animals talked at midnight on Christmas Eve. Randi is understandably wary of walking into the tinderbox she rightly foresees. Andy, too, is uneasy about bringing home his girlfriend.
At home is Phil Gorski (OBT veteran Doug Klein), father to Andy and his younger brother, Mickey (Geoffrey Barber). Phil was once a baseball player for the Pittsburgh Pirates but gave it up when he found out that his son Mickey was mentally disabled. He is rigidly Catholic, explosive, and grouchy about several neighbors’ outdoor Christmas decorations outside. Tonight, Phil is having his own trouble with the Christmas tree lights. Inexplicably the lights suddenly flick on. What or who is responsible? God? Or a magic during the time of year when even the animals talk?
Phil’s wife, Emily (Catherine Rowe, a veteran of 28 OBT shows), is a mild, would-be peacemaker, and hard of hearing. Andy’s younger brother, Mickey, is also at home. He doesn’t speak. His parents have been coaching him to talk but so far with no success. Suddenly, at the arrival of Randi and Andy, Mickey does blurt out, to everyone’s surprise, “Greetings!”
The acting across the board is excellent and highly believeable, but the real stand-out is Barber. With a decided set to his jaw, a slightly imbecilic smile, and a strained accent once he is talking freely, he asks the play’s most startingly unusual and provocative questions.
Now ensconced in Andy’s staunchly Catholic childhood home the young couple makes no attempt to hide the fact that Randi was raised in a Jewish family but has become an atheist. Phil and Randi each argue their strong beliefs. Phil demands of the couple, “If there’s no God, who created all the beauty of the world? If there is no God, what’s the point of going on?”
The hard-of-hearing Emily, now eager to talk with her son Mickey now that he has begun to speak, argues that Mickey’s speaking is a miracle that needs to be examined. Is it a complex psychological disorder? A happening of the mystical, magical time? A new way of thinking in a new age? Is it, as Mickey himself suggests, a simple matter of rearranging atoms? Within this religious maelstrom Randi finally admits why she is an atheist: Her baby sister, an infant in a carriage, was struck and killed by a car running over the curb. No God, if there were one, would have allowed that to happen, she insists.
The outcome of this heated imbroglio about God and beliefs is that Randi and Andy will, when their own children ask the big questions, teach them to make up their own minds, to think for themselves.
The characters themselves resolve to change their thinking a little every day and tonight to forgo habitual attendance at midnight mass. And here, set against Mickey’s speaking in a strange accent, begins the play’s new, fantastic time frame, yet quite believable. Mickey’s outrageous yet probing questions and suggestions linger.
The Los Angeles Times says it best, calling the play “a wonderful, wacky look at how cleverly a mixture of Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Age philosophy can — in the right hands — flick on the electricity.”
Greetings, through Saturday, December 16, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Tom Dudzik’s holiday comedy. $25.50 to $27.25. 609-466-2766.