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Ayckbourn Comedy Opens in Production from Houston’s Alley Theater

July 12, 1985

NEW YORK (AP) _ Warm laughter on a summer night, for a play set at Christmas, is the reception for ″Season’s Greetings″ which opened off-Broadway Thursday night.

The play by Englishman Alan Ayckbourn was first done in this country for five weeks last Christmas by the Alley Theater in Houston. That production now enters the Joyce Theater’s first summer season of plays from regional theaters -at Yale, Houston and Los Angeles.

″Season’s Greetings″ is a zany family play, where the people are funnier and crazier than your own family, but sometimes not much. The laughs come, not so much from one-line jokes, as from the recognition of situations and characters.

It takes place, in five scenes from Dec. 24 to 27, in the home of Belinda and Neville. Relatives visiting are Uncle Harvey, two more married couples and Belinda’s 34-year-old sister plus her date, a novelist.

There are family traditions that persist, though many wish they wouldn’t, like Phyllis’ cooking Christmas Eve dinner, while she drinks, and her husband’s giving a very long puppet show for the children.

The children always are upstairs or out taking walks but a few scenes from the puppet show receive a hilariously disastrous preview, so one gets the idea.

The play remains a comedy, provoking rich laughs, but problems are dealt with more seriously than if this play had been written a few decades ago. The wives all feel more neglected by their husbands than they should be. Professionally, two of the husbands aren’t successful and the one who is successful spends his spare time in a backyard workshop.

In a play like ″You Can’t Take It with You,″ the most eccentric of the family is still harmless. In ″Season’s Greetings,″ the novelist is caught in compromising positions with three of the women, one right after the other, at night under the Christmas tree. Uncle Harvey overhears most of it and decides, quixotically, the man’s a Christmas present thief. So Uncle Harvey shoots him.

In the cast we particularly enjoyed Robert Cornthwaite’s Uncle Harvey, Lawr Means’ awkward spinster and Richard Poe as Neville, the host. The other cast members include Robin Moseley, Dale Helward, Lillian Evans, Cynthia Lammel, Charles Sanders and Michael Alan Gregory.

Pat Brown, artistic director of the 39-year-old Alley Theater, directed. Michael Holt, who has worked with Ayckbourn for 10 years, designed a substantial set, with TV room, dining room, big entrance hall and views up the stairs, into the kitchen and out into the snow.

This is the play’s as well as the Alley’s first appearance in New York. ″Season’s Greetings″ will run through July 27.

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