STLAS Revels In Christmas- English Style- With Alan Ayckbourn’s “Season’s Greetings”

Eric Dean White as Neville and Emily Baker as Belinda discuss issues as Jason Grubbe as Harvey enjoys a "shoot-'em-up" holiday story on TV as St. Louis Actors' Studio presents "Season's Greetings." Photo: John Lamb.

Eric Dean White as Neville and Emily Baker as Belinda discuss issues as Jason Grubbe as Harvey and Wendy R. Greenwood as Pattie enjoy a “shoot-’em-up” holiday story on TV as St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents “Season’s Greetings.” Photo: John Lamb.

The delightful progression of excellent holiday shows continues on St. Louis stages as St. Louis Actors’ Studio brings us the witty and “perfectly English” shenanigans of Alan Ayckbourn’s “Season’s Greetings.” The only other production of this comedy of manners I can recall in our town is years ago at City Players. It should really become a more frequent visitor at holiday time as this superb cast and excellent execution would attest to. Enjoy it while you can this year, however.

As in most Ayckbourn plays (“Absurd Person Singular,” “How The Other Half Loves” and the marvelous trilogy, “Norman Conquests” to just name a few) domestic tranquility goes topsy-turvy while crisp dialogue and a plethora of sight gags help to keep the laughs coming. We’re at the home of Neville and Belinda Bunker as Christmas and Boxing Day bring presents, surreptitious liaisons and even an annual puppet show led by an inept uncle. As our hosts, Eric Dean White is great as the mechanically-obsessed husband while Emily Baker finds her attention drawn to her shy sister’s unexpected guest, a one-book wonder author played to the hilt by Stephen Peirick. He, in fact, becomes the catalyst in this holiday gone wrong that leads to gun play and a few more surprises.

Phillip E. Bozich is simply hysterical as Bernard, who brings a new dimension to make-shift marionettes in his 16-scene presentation of “The Three Little Pigs” (don’t worry, we don’t have to sit through all 16 scenes). As his wife- the cook for the festivities- we’re treated to a laugh-out-loud performance from Teresa Doggett and her   tipsy flirting with the author. Another uncle, played by Jason Grubbe, adds to the zaniness with his obsession for movies on TV (appears to be a Christmas-themed “shoot ’em up”) and his penchant for supplying the youngsters with real guns as holiday gifts.

Stephen Peirick as Clive and Emily Baker as Belinda get set for a special holiday present during STLAS' production of Alan Ayckbourn's "Season's Greetings." Photo: John Lamb.

Stephen Peirick as Clive and Emily Baker as Belinda get set for a special holiday present during STLAS’ production of Alan Ayckbourn’s “Season’s Greetings.” Photo: John Lamb.

The bickering couple, Tom Lehmann as Eddie and Wendy R. Greenwood as his pregnant wife, Pattie, go against the properly British type as their open hostility bring a few questioning glances and awkward silences. Rounding out this simply outstanding cast is a simply outstanding performance from Rachel Hanks as the shy, nervous sister. Her emotions sway as, at first, she thinks she’s been stood up by her new “friend,” the author, then to euphoria as he shows up and finally outright hostility as she realizes his fascination for her sister Belinda.

Director Elizabeth Helman brings out the perfectly understated humor in Alan Ayckbourn’s script along with the downright uproarious dialogue and silly situations. Although not stated in the program, a dialogue coach may have helped because the entire cast maintained pitch-perfect accents throughout. The Christie Johnston set design works remarkably well on the small Gaslight Theatre stage and the lights of Jonathan Zelezniak and sound design of Robin Weatherall combine for many a flawless effect. The costumes of Jennifer “JC” Krajicek complete the package that STLAS has wrapped and presented us for the holidays.

Good news from opening week-end is that both HotCity and St. Louis Actors’ Studio sold out performances. It’s great that local theatre is so well attended and hopefully that will continue into the new year and new seasons for these and other outstanding groups in our town. For now, add STLAS’ production of Alan Ayckbourn’s “Season’s Greetings” to your to-do list of holiday must-have’s. Contact them at 314-458-2978 for tickets or more information.

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