by Michael Bowen

They almost didn't do it before. Why are they doing it now? Tom Dudzick's Christmas comedy Greetings (at CenterStage from Nov. 7-Dec. 13) has been produced in Spokane previously (at Interplayers in 1995, with Joan Welch directing).

Greetings focuses on a contentious Catholic family, all set to bicker their way through the holidays when the elder son brings home his fianc & eacute;e to meet the folks. His Jewish fianc & eacute;e. (Well, ex-Jewish.) And she's an atheist. Right about when the Gorski family is preparing to deck the halls -- and each other -- the plot turns on a supernatural event, a miracle of sorts.

Yet 10 years ago, the Interplayers brain trust of Bob and Joan Welch and Michael Weaver weren't so sure that audiences would accept the premise. Bob Welch, who will be directing the upcoming CenterStage version of Greetings, recalls that "We were always looking for a Christmas show, you know, because we'd sell it as a time when you could bring the whole family in to see a show. Well, we put it off for two years. I was worried that people wouldn't buy into it.

"But you know, when you're reading 150 plays a year, you look for what gets to you. And Greetings really did."

Still, Welch fretted about "the unbelievable situation -- science fiction and all that."

Seems that Phil Gorski, the father, has been embittered ever since he gave up his career to look after his disabled younger son, Mickey. Phil's wife Emily (Linda Montalvo) grieves over how her husband has changed. Now Andy (Tony Caprile) has brought home this atheist woman, Randi. Poor Mickey (Stuart MacKenzie) may be 30, but he has the mind of a child -- and all this arguing bothers him something awful.

And then the miracle happens.

Eight years ago, the actor playing Mickey at Interplayers had gone out to do research among the developmentally disabled. But Welch decided against that this time.

"Mickey has the mind of a three-year-old," Welch remarks. "We had Stuart concentrate on the things that depress children of that age, and, of course, the things that make them happy -- simple joys, simple pleasures." The main turning point comes about, says Welch, because "things make him exceedingly happy. Mickey wants a happy Christmas, and he wants those around him to be happy."

But they aren't happy. Welch says that Phil (Ron Ford) "feels that God is punishing him." Having decided to end the baseball career he loved right after his retarded son was born, Phil is always muttering about "another one of God's little punishments." He's continually grumpy. So isn't he just an Archie Bunker kind of stereotype? Welch says no: "There's another side to Phil's character, and his love for Mickey is the other side."

Then there's the fianc & eacute;e, Randi (Emily Perez), whose lack of religious belief horrifies this staunchly Catholic family. Because she immediately comes under attack, it would be easy for Randi to get overly defensive and even whiny. "She never really snaps back at them," notes Welch, "though she sometimes takes a different tack than to charm them into liking her. She's not exactly bitter, but the veneer of charm is sometimes dropped. Randi goes through quite a bit. Her whole idea is to make this family like her."

In fact, "the spine of this play," says Welch, joining his hands in a gesture of unity, "is to bring the people in this family together. It goes from dysfunction to togetherness, from a fractured family to a family that comes together."

Welch provides a list of examples: "Phil is trying to get together with God. Andy is trying to get [his fianc & eacute;e's] approval. She is trying to get the family's approval. And Mickey wants this family to come together."

"And," Welch continues, "the play's supernatural event is motivated by the family's behavior. All that bickering at what should be a joyous time of year needs some cosmic correction, evidently."

Miracles and happiness and neat resolutions, however, at least run the risk of verging into sentimentality. Southern California's OC Weekly attacked Greetings for just that reason, describing the play as "defiantly shrugging off rationale, plot or character development in favor of treacly New Age bromides about peace, love and understanding."

But Joan Welch, who directed that Christmas '95 production, remembers the audience response well: "You laugh and you cry, what can I tell ya? The play becomes very personal for people when they see it." She recalls going through rehearsals back then: "I remember, as funny as it was, tears would come into my eyes."

Her husband Bob's quintet of actors plan to leaven their Christmas confection by adding into the mix tidings of great comedy.

Publication date: 11/06/03

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About The Author

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.