Regional Reviews: Seattle
Also see David's reviews of The Sound of Music, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Unwrapped
The setting is an ordinary home where a young married couple, Leah and Mark, are hoping to have an intimate and meaningful Christmas Eve. Mark's mother was taken to the airport in the morning, and Leah has arranged an intimate dinner at a local restaurant for the two of them. That is especially important because she wants to use the occasion to deliver a life-changing announcement to Mark, but the restaurant decides that it wants to close much earlier than they expected, and Mark can't give up working on the novel he's writing in order to get out of the door. Everything goes bad from there. Mother Helen arrives back at the house with an announcement that her flight was cancelled, and that she took a cab back from the airport. Oh, and she invited the cab driver, a Bosnian immigrant name Serge, to come to dinner with them. Also, the upstairs neighbor, a fussy British man named Patrick, is constantly asking to borrow ingredients for some baking he's doing. Added to that, a young woman named Elise, who works at the restaurant where they were supposed to go, is struck by Leah's car when she tries to deliver the missed dinner to the couple. She stays, and develops a considerable attraction to Serge.
Over the course of the action, we discover that Leah is not the only one keeping a secret, and that the invention of this particular holiday can only be achieved through the authenticity of their hearts. Make no mistake, though. There is nothing sentimental or cloyingly traditional about this Christmas show. It all feels thoroughly genuine, spontaneous and contemporary, and only made real because of the reality of their individual emotions. It's a beautiful and satisfying show, excellently written and smartly performed, and feels like a major new contribution to our wealth of holiday dramas.
The actors are well-balanced and believable. Leah is played by Charity Parenzini as a woman who carries a great deal within herself, but is also committed to making this Christmas Eve special and important. I loved her energy and the authenticity behind all of her actions. As her husband Mark, Matt Shimkus is a bit too self-contained and although it is clear how important his writing is to him, he does not really show the kind of insight that the character needs as his egotistical reality crumbles. His growing insight about all that he has missed by being so focused on himself is really critical to the advancement of the drama, and those revelations don't really show enough.
As his mother, Helen, Macall Gordon does an excellent job of creating an equally self-absorbed woman, but one who behind it all has real feelings for what is going on in the lives of others. The British neighbor, Patrick Chamberlain, is played with plenty of pomp and pretense by Robert Gallaher, but he is also quite likable and familiar when his façade is abandoned. The Bosnian, Serge, is very well-played by Kevin Bordi, who makes the man feel both like an alien and also one who is fully aware of the central place of family at this particular time of year. Jenny Cross is very funny as the scattered waitress Elise and manages to keep all the outrageousness of her comedy in proportion to an actual person we could easily meet any day of the week.
The production is beautifully staged on an extremely realistic set by Mark Lund, with excellent, appropriate costumes by Sarah Burch Gordon and lighting by Kent Cubbage. The action goes by very quickly and never feels like it is hyped or inauthentic. Perhaps the thing that I like most about this wonderful new play is that it doesn't have any of the saccharine, sentimental dreck we usually find in Christmas plays. We could know any one of these people and all of this could happen in any of our homes. What makes the celebration meaningful and moving is that it comes from the genuine hearts of each of these people. This Christmas is the best surprise in holiday entertainment that I've seen so far.
This Christmas plays at Taproot Theatre 204 N 85th St. Seattle, WA to December 26th. Tickets range from $20-$40 and are available at www.Taproottheatre.org or by phone at 206-781-9707.