When you're bringing your Jewish atheist fiancee home to meet your blue-collar Catholic family for the first time, Christmas Eve is probably not the best choice of an occasion. Home for the holidays, Andy Gorski (Joshua Schulman) introduces his outspoken bride-to-be Randi Stein (Carolyn Barnes) to his clan, which includes his dithering, devout mom Emily (Channing Chase), his mentally disabled brother Mickey (Alfonso Paz) and his dad Phil (Quinn K. Redeker), an intolerant curmudgeon who takes his traditions very seriously.
As Andy expected, Phil and Randi mix like oil and holy water. Unexpected, however, is an uncanny visitation that shakes up the ideological status quo, causing Phil to question his orthodoxy and Randi to reexamine her disbelief.
Tom Dudzick's frequently uproarious comedy "Greetings" proves an impressive season opener for International City Theatre. Director Caryn Morse Desai seldom pushes into caricature as she smoothly underscores the laughs (although she should tell the otherwise charming Chase to lose her blatantly imitative Edith Bunker gallop). The cast is uniformly solid, and Paz is virtuosic in a particularly demanding role. Don Gruber's set is a seasonal jewel right up to the snow-dusted plastic Santa on the porch roof. Rand Ryan's lighting contributes to the holiday fun--and mystery.
At first, Dudzick's play seems to have it all--a simple but involving story line, quirky yet sympathetic characters, and a genuinely unanticipated plot twist. Yet Dudzick's highly original comedic construct comes dangerously close to collapsing under the weight of the half-baked new age philosophizing in the second act. One such vapid rumination--that a child's death was somehow just punishment for her past-life malfeasance--is distasteful, unfunny and wholly unnecessary to the plot.
* "Greetings," International City Theatre, Long Beach City College, Clark Street and Harvey Way, Long Beach. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Feb. 22. $22. (562) 938-4128. Running time: 2 hours.