SANTA ANA — Dysfunctional families and their salvation have been a staple of Christmas stories from the Scrooges on up.
The Gorskis fit neatly into the pattern. Papa Phil is angry at his life. Mama Emily is angry at the loss of the happy young ballplayer she married. Son Andy is riddled with guilt over his father's lifelong inability to admit any love for his family. The only happy Gorski is son Mickey. He's mentally challenged.
But Mickey holds a winning card none of the others hold--the solution to the family disarray.
For the second year in a row, Way Off Broadway is presenting Tom Dudzick's "Greetings," a way offbeat comedy that, though it sometimes looks like a sitcom, develops into an entrancing, literate and life-affirming testament to the indestructibility of the human spirit. It also makes a strong case for some of the metaphysical reasons we're all here to begin with.
One day, Mickey, who has never been able to form words, looks at his mother and says, "Greetings." The word is the opening salvo of a decisive visit by a soul entity, channeled through Mickey's subconscious, to correct some of the errors made by Mickey's loved ones.
The action, sometimes predictable and sometimes startling, is handled intelligently and affectionately by director Tony Reverditto. The pace is brisk but never neglects to pause when a heart tug is ready to hit home. Reverditto never lets it get maudlin, though, and balances the very basic seriousness with gentle comic and insightful cosmic touches.
If David Rousseve constantly pushes Phil's anger and bitterness, there is still an evident softness behind the pain, a warm touch of tough love that helps round out his character. As Andy, an advertising writer, David Walloch alternates between the son's just-as-bitter resentment of his father's attitude and a breezy attempt to make his family look fairly bland for the sake of his fiancee, Randi, an affecting and calming Denison Glass.
The richness and depth in Reverditto's staging, however, is mainly brought about through the fine performances of Karen Mangano as the mother, and David Alan Nelson as Mickey. Mangano's long-suffering Emily is maintained by a subtle and offhand sense of humor, and Mangano has a vulnerability that gives deep shading to a difficult role.
Nelson's Mickey is an impeccably shaped portrait, from the joyously buoyant giddiness, without any trace of condescension, of the earthly Mickey, to the highly evolved, intellectually superior aura of the spirit he has summoned through his subconscious. It's a Christmas gift of a performance.
\o7 * "Greetings," Way Off Broadway Playhouse, 1058 E. 1st St., Santa Ana. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; matinees Dec. 11 and 18, 2:30 p.m. Ends Dec. 18. $15. (714) 547-8997. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.\f7 David Alan Nelson: Mickey Gorski Karen Mangano: Emily Gorski David Walloch: Andy Gorski David Rousseve: Phil Gorski Denison Glass: Randi Stein Ivette Torres: Evelyn Deborah Kissinger: Lucy
A Way Off Broadway production of Tom Dudzick's comedy-drama. Produced by Tony Reverditto and David Walloch. Directed by Reverditto. Scenic design: Reverditto and Walloch. Lighting/sound design: Steve Andreno. Stage managers: Ivette Torres, Deborah Kissinger.