Christmas miracles do happen in Tom Dudzick’s “Greetings!,” but none strong enough to push this New Age boulevard comedy past mediocrity. Lurking beneath this unsophisticated, intermittently amusing effort are some hints of undeveloped talent, but rookie playwright Tom Dudzick trips on his own intentions. Director Dennis Zacek does his share of stumbling as well.
Set in a working-class Pittsburgh neighborhood, “Greetings!” has the Gorskis — crotchety patriarch Phil (Darren McGavin), nervous mom Emily (Lenore Loveman) and mentally handicapped son Mickey (Aaron Goodwin) — awaiting the Christmas visit of eldest son Andy (Gregg Edelman). Andy, a cynical New York advertising type, is bringing home fiancee Randi (Toby Poser) for the first time, setting up the situation of this sitcom play: The Gorskis are Catholic; Randi’s Jewish.
In the Gorski household, arguing seems to be as hallowed a holiday tradition as the nativity set, and Randi’s introduction — Andy implausibly announces that his fiancee is not only Jewish, but an atheist — sets the stage for some mighty big religious debates, with papa Phil out-Bunkering Archie Bunker. Just as Andy and Randi are about to storm out of the house, the miracle occurs: The retarded Mickey, heretofore unable to speak in any intelligible way, opens up with an eloquent speech in an accent somewhere between Rex Harrison and Bronson Pinchot’s TV character Balki.
The transformation won’t be explained here — it’s barely explained in the play — but the cosmic wisdom that flows through Mickey and transforms the bickering family into a happy unit will seem laughably tired to anyone with even a passing familiarity with Marianne Williamsonor others of her New Age ilk. His recent-convert enthusiasm suggests Dudzick is new to the blather of countless latenight cable self-help infomercials.
Although he reduces serious religious debates to sitcom banality, the playwright does show a certain ease in the play’s more naturalistic moments, particularly in the sweet and simple early scenes between the parents and the mentally handicapped son. When he strives for something larger, he descends to ridiculously stiff pronouncements: “What we’ve seen here is encumbered by yesterday’s version of reality.”
Zacek, who directed the much better and long-running “Beau Jest,” doesn’t seem to know what to do with such lines any more than he knows how to handle the play’s more bizarre elements. Pacing falters, obvious cues are missed and the supernatural overtones spin into silliness. Play ends on an intended twist so obvious its foreshadowing couldn’t be lost on the plastic manger animals.
For the most part, the actors give more than might be expected, with McGavin moving through the first act like the journeyman he is before sputtering along with the play. Loveman, Poser and Goodwin are fine despite some clunky dialogue, but the usually engaging Edelman gives a glib performance so stiff and stagy one can only ascribe it to laziness. Even if this were a better play his walk-through turn would just about sink it.
Bruce Goodrich’s living-room set has the appropriate middle American warmth, even if it seems too large for this working-class family. As with the play itself, the sentiment doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. “Greetings!” has its heart in the New Age, but its head could stand some serious maturing.