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Christmas is chaos in New Milford comedy

By Chesley Plemmons, The News Times


You might not expect to hear Santa shouting "Ho, Ho, Ho -- Schadenfreude for all!" as he circles over the rooftops on Christmas Eve, unless you've unfortunately been invited to drop by for a holiday drink at the home of Belinda and Neville, an English couple with more issues than a Kleenex box has tissues.

That German word Schadenfreude, which means taking joy in the unhappiness of others -- how Teutonic! -- easily describes the reasons we laugh at the seasonal cheer gone south in Alan Ayckbourn's 1980 comedy. It's about a holiday get-together that turns positively manic.

This comedy may not be one of Ayckbourn's top-tier works, but it's amusing, and the performances, under the spirited direction of Glenn R. Couture, are happily distracting enough to keep one from trying to evaluate the substance at hand. It's chaos and cacophony as comedy.

The New Milford production has a quite smashing set, designed by the director, that serves as a turnstile and arena for the comics. It's Christmas Eve, and Belinda (Tracy Hurd) and Neville (Viv Berger) are hard at work trying to pull together the decorations, the dinner and the guests.

Foremost among them are friends Bernard (Philip Cook) and his wife, Phyllis (Janice Connor). He's is keyed up about presenting his puppet show to the children in the household, an annual presentation viewed like an attack of after-dinner heartburn by the rest of the family, and she considers an empty drink glass a personal challenge.

Belinda's unmarried sister, Rachel (Alison Bernhardt), is on hand, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Clive (Nicholas Pollifrone), a new author and her date for the weekend. Household regular Uncle Harvey (Matt McQuail), addicted to old movies on television, is only momentarily diverted from the festivities.

Neville and Belinda's friends Eddie (Tom Libonate) and his pregnant wife, Pattie (Mikki Harkin), are the duo from the other side of the tracks, intellectually if not socially.

You probably won't be surprised to know that everything that could go wrong does, including the moral restraint of Belinda, who finds herself passionately attracted to her sister's boyfriend. Uncle Harvey's attack on Bernard's hand puppets is not exactly a Noel moment either.

It's all appropriately silly and fast, and there are enough laughs to certify it as a comedy, although the playwright threads a strange element of reality through it all.

Clive, who seems quite normal, makes a fine foil for the less than literati crowd he's stuck with, but his reality is hard to jibe with the idiocy around him. It might have been better if his character had been something of a fop.

The acting is quite sharp, especially by Connor, who does a drunk scene masterfully. Most actors will tell you that acting drunk is not as easy as it might seem. She's terrific.

McQuail is good, too, though I kept expecting his nutty character to suddenly pull out a trumpet and blow taps. Oh, no, that's Uncle Teddy in "You Can't Take It With You."

It's the time of year to sit back, leave the shopping list on the counter and just relax. You can do that at this show unless you have friends or relatives like these -- in which case, Schadenfreude for you and to all a good night!

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