Holiday GREETINGS from the Playmasters

by Lesley Grigg

Bob DeMarco, Kathleen D. Gaynor (standing); Bob Clothier, Heather MacHenry (seated); and Jon Zucker (floor) star in The Playmasters' GREETINGS.

Ah, the holidays. A time for families to gather round the living room, talk about life, eat till they pass out, and surround themselves with the spirit of the season in mind, body and glass. Nothing brings out the holiday spirit like bringing a new girl home to meet the family. Nothing warms the heart more than having a new loved one welcomed with open arms and open bottles. Nothing opens those bottles faster than having said loved one berated with question after question about personal beliefs. It would take a Christmas miracle to save this newfound love and rekindle the warmth of the holiday spirit.

The Playmasters round out 2011 with such a story of family, spirit, and miracles. We find the power of understanding and communication may simply lie in spreading some holiday GREETINGS.

We first meet Andy Gorski (Bob DeMarco) and Randi Stein (Kathleen D. Gaynor) on their way to the Gorski residence for Christmas. There’s some nervous energy as Gorski tries to explain his family dynamic while mixing in memories of magical holiday miracles. Randi plays the cool and confident one. This might be because she doesn’t really know what she’s getting into, or maybe because she doesn’t believe in miracles.

DeMarco and Gaynor were believable as a new couple about to make a big step in meeting future in-laws. The nervousness of the first scene gave way to almost a sense of relief in DeMarco when he was joined by others on stage. His performance felt more natural with his stage family, from the casual way he talked to his “parents” to the playful ease he had with his “brother.” Gaynor was also more natural when it came to talking to her own family, but at times it seemed like she was a little detached, which at first was understandable, but it became confusing during a more crucial and dramatic scene. It could have been her character’s skeptic beliefs, but lack of conviction doesn’t have to mean a lack of reaction.

At the Gorski home, parents Emily (Heather E. MacHenry) and Phil (Bob Clothier) prepare for the arrival of their son and his new friend in their own ways. Emily is in and out of the kitchen, while Phil finally surfaces from the basement, which is no doubt a Man Cave, before helping younger son Mickey (Jon Zucker) decorate the tree. From the moment Andy and Randi arrive, the celebration is kicked into high gear. After the introductions and brotherly roughhousing comes the small talk, the questions, and the alcoholic beverages.

MacHenry and Clothier play the parents I’m sure we’re all familiar with. Either we’ve lived with these parents, or we’ve met them during similar occasions, but they’re ones we love to hate. Parents that ask too many questions we wish they wouldn’t. Parents that believe what they think is right and have a hard time thinking otherwise. Parents who just want the best for us, even if they don’t always act like it. Both MacHenry and Clothier do a fine job at bringing out these familiar qualities and making us understand why they do the things they do.

Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that Jon Zucker has a knack for staying completely in character and playing a wide variety of roles with such seamless transitions you may think twice about his true sanity. The only qualm is that these roles may be overlapping, since his spirited performance was slightly reminiscent of a robotic sounding super-genius, only this time with a faint Spanish accent. Nonetheless, he always finds a way to poetically inject the play with words of wisdom. This could just have been an overflowing of holiday spirits, or even a Christmas miracle, but the result was an interesting twist in what started out as a mainstream holiday story and turned into an examination of reality and faith that couldn’t help but be uplifting.

by Tom Dudzick
Directed by Joe Szumila
November 25-December 11, 2011
The Playmasters
State Road
Bensalem, PA 19020

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