Okay, you love Dickens, and you can recite every one of Ebenezer Scrooge's lines by heart. Still, there's nothing like live theater for a holiday treat. This month, the Shadowland Theatre in Ellenville comes to our collective rescue with "Greetings!" by Tom Dudzik, a somewhat lesser-known gem of seasonal spirit that may be especially appropriate for a society that manages to get its collective nuts in a fuss over the "message" behind a coffee cup design.
The plot is classic: Son comes home for holiday dinner with Mom and Dad and severely mentally handicapped brother, bringing along his lady love, an atheist of Jewish extraction. His parents are conservative Catholics. As you might expect, things get sparky. Then—
"It takes a turn on you," says Shadowland Director Brendan Burke." It starts going along like a sitcom and you have these expectations. Then it gets deep and takes you by surprise. You think it's going to be slight and cute, you're just getting ready to write it off, and all of a sudden—"
The conflicted diners get a serious wakeup call from a highly unlikely source, and a fresh look at the meaning of celebration, belief, and what matters in this world. Zingers abound, however, such as the one in which someone tries to break up a tense dinner table argument about religion by saying, "Please! Couldn't we discuss politics?"
Critics have called Dudzek's take on family, holidays, and religion exhilarating, hilarious, "the perfect holiday gift for a loved one" (John Graf Jr., Somerset Spectator) and "delightful from start to finish" (Ted Otten, New York Times).
It's the Shadowland's 31st season and their first-ever holiday production, made possible by the renovations done after the theater's recent capital campaign. "We've always been a summer theater," says Burke, "and expanding to a seven-show season was a major goal. This year, we've had something going on every weekend since May. We wanted to create a holiday season theater tradition here in this part of the valley, but not to duplicate what other theaters do, and this is the perfect kind of play to try out our expanded schedule. Dudzek is from Buffalo, but this play has never been done around here—it's fresh and good and hilarious."
The Shadowland is acclaimed for bringing Manhattan-caliber talent to Ellenville, and "Greetings!" will be no exception. Bernie Sheredy, playing the grumpy Catholic dad Phil, is a five-time Shadowland veteran whose resume includes film roles in Meet the Parents, Quiz Show, and House of D. Molly Densmore, playing the atheist Jewish lass whose presence at the table sparks a conflagration, is a veteran of the Shadowland ("Unnecessary Farce") and the Woodstock Playhouse and appears in the film Monster, as well as having worked in New York in roles as diverse as Ariel in "The Tempest" and an ensemble player in "Robin Hood—The Rock Musical." Her young beloved, Andy, is played by award-winner Justin Pierropaolo, who's acted extensively in works by Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams.
Andy's brother Mickey, a 30-year-old with a functional vocabulary of two words, emerges as a pivotal character; he'll be played by David Yashin, another Shadowland regular. Yashin played Mickey in a 2014 production of "Greetings!" staged in Pennsylvania, "You rock, Mr. Yashin. Blew us away," raved a theatergoer on that theater's Facebook page.
They are, as Burke points out, "the same folks you see on Broadway"—at about half the cost before you figure in transportation and tolls.
"Greetings!" will be staged at the Shadowland Theatre in Ellenville December 4 to 20. Half-price seats will be offered to Ulster County residents at three performances on Saturday, December 5, at 2pm; Thursday, December 10, at 8pm; and Thursday December 17, at 8pm. (845) 647-5511; Shadowlandtheatre.org.
—Anne Pyburn Craig