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Collaborative production ‘Greetings!’ makes the Yuletide strange

December 14, 2021
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Collaborative production ‘Greetings!’ makes the Yuletide strange (photo courtesy Chris Goetting, Christopher Brian Photography)

BANGOR – Two local theatre companies have collaborated on a holiday production unlike any you’ve seen before.

Ten Bucks Theatre Company and True North Theatre Company have joined forces this holiday season to offer up their production of “Greetings!” The play – written by Tom Dudzik and directed by Tellis K. Coolong – is running through Dec. 19 at the Ten Bucks Theatre space in the Bangor Mall.

The show is a … let’s call it unconventional take on the usual holiday fare, one that utilizes some familiar tropes of the genre only to subvert them in service of a tale that is far weirder than what you usually see this time of year. Weirder, but no less heartfelt because of that. It’s a story of families and the difficulties that they can have, the pitfalls of communication (and lack thereof) and what it means to believe.

The year is 1990. We’re in the Pittsburgh home of the Gorski family. Mom Emily (Margo Lukens) is bustling to and from the kitchen, preparing for a sit-down holiday meal. Dad Phil (David Lane) is puttering around down in the basement – he may or may not be drinking beer down there. And sitting in a world of his own at the foot of the Christmas tree is Mickey (Peter Bacon); he’s the younger of the Gorskis’ two sons, an intellectually disabled adult who is minimally vocal, communicating largely through grunts and other sounds – “Wow!” and “Hiya!” basically mark the extent of his speech, though both Emily and Phil continue to encourage him to speak more.

They’re all preparing for the return of elder son Andy (Jesse Speed); he’s an adman working in New York City and only gets home occasionally these days. It’s an extra special visit this time around, though – Andy’s bringing someone with him. Specifically, it’s his girlfriend Randi (Jenny Hancock); Andy has decided that it is time to introduce her to his family.

But when Andy and Randi arrive, things get tense rather quickly. Andy’s relationship with his father is strained under the best of circumstances, but when dinner conversation leads down some particularly prickly paths, things get argumentative. Basically, Phil has some fundamental beliefs that aren’t shared by Randi. Nor are they necessarily shared by Andy anymore, much to Phil’s chagrin. Everyone is keyed up and on edge.

And then Mickey says something unexpected – “Greetings!” – and stuff gets weird.

What follows is a comedic meditation on what it means to believe, refracted through the prism of family ties. Equal parts hilarious and heartfelt, it’s an unconventional exploration of the fundamental concepts – positive and negative – of the holiday season.

I’ll confess that I didn’t know what to expect from “Greetings!” Generally, there’s a familiarity to most of these holiday stories. Even if you haven’t seen a specific show before, you have a general idea of how it is going to go. It’s the nature of the beast – there’s comfort in the familiar. But while some of the underlying notions in “Greetings!” will ring recognizable, the story itself is unlike any holiday show you’ve seen.

Honestly? It’s kind of great.

Say you read this review and go to the show. Here’s what’ll happen. You’ll spend the first part of the show enjoying yourself – having a few laughs, recognizing some holiday tropes – and you’ll ask yourself “What was that guy even talking about?” The show will then answer that question for you thoroughly, bizarrely and hilariously. I’d tell you more, but “Greetings!” should not be spoiled – so much better to go in clean.

You’ll thank me later.

It’s nice to see this kind of unconventional choice being made. While there’s plenty of joy to be mined from more traditional tales, it’s nice to see some different pieces getting some play. TBT/TNT are far from the only ones – lots of interesting holiday and holiday-adjacent fare out there this season – but I feel safe in saying that this show offered more and bigger surprises than anything I’ve seen of late.

Director Coolong does good work in presenting his story in straightforward manner while also never fully showing his hand. He could easily have telegraphed some of what’s coming, but instead, he allows for a slow burn. He also grounds the production, which lends verisimilitude to some conceptual leaps that are, to put it mildly, a lot to take in. The production elements – particularly the scenic and lighting designs of Tony Gerow – contribute mightily to the homey intimacy of the space, which in turn elevates the material even further.

As Phil and Emily Gorski, David Lane and Margo Lukens capture a very specific familial energy, that mildly-combative forever-together deep-seated love that only springs from couples that have been through the wringer together. There’s an Archie and Edith vibe to their dynamic that works quite well. Jesse Speed plays Andy with a welcome straightforwardness tinged with just a hint of awkwardness; there’s an eager-to-please quality to him that is both sweet and a little sad. As Randi, Jenny Hancock handles her role as plot catalyst deftly – it could have been a bit of a thankless part, but she makes it her own, finding her moments and embracing them. And kudos to Peter Bacon – it would have been very easy for Mickey to become a caricature of sorts, but the role is treated gently and respectfully, allowing us to see the character as a person rather than an ill-defined stereotype.

“Greetings!” was not at all what I expected. And that’s a good thing. After all, who doesn’t love a holiday surprise?

(You may purchase tickets or find more information about “Greetings!” by visiting the Facebook pages of Ten Bucks Theatre and True North Theatre. Please note that the company has COVID safety protocols in place; be sure to check those requirements ahead of attending.)

Last modified on Tuesday, 14 December 2021 08:06

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