“Comfort & Joy” Propitiously Begins the Richmond Holiday Season
By Matthew Miller
In the realm of Christmas mythos, the festively ubiquitous conceit of the redemptive power of Christmastide and the miracles that ensue is an imponderable and endlessly circuitous artistic avenue to retell. But while past renditions of the Christmas miracle may eschew the questions too uncomfortable in a heteronormative society, Richmond Triangle Players’ premiere of “Comfort and Joy” is a wholly uncommon Christmas narrative, palpably sacrificing neither genuine social issues dramaturgy or an unwelcome holiday fruit cake of existential predicaments begging for resolution.
With only a few hiccups buffeting this adaptation of Jack Heifner’s off-Broadway eponymous diegesis, director Amy Berlin’s artistic execution coupled with technical sophistication reverently speaks to the timelessness of LGBT psychosocial issues no matter the festive season.
In the hands of adroit set designer David Allan Ballas, the quaint, four-cornered stage of the Richmond Triangle Players theater is miraculously transformed into a delightful image of a professionally wrapped Christmas present from the play’s favorite department store reference: Neiman Marcus. A somber red accent wall coupled with sophisticated plaid wallpaper deliberately arouses the Christmas sensory experience.
Positioned on the stage’s periphery, a meagerly deemphasized Christmas tree reminds us that the themes unearthed in the seasonal ilk of “Miracle on 34th Street” and “A Christmas Carol” but reengineered here and now in its present form (modern references to Miley Cyrus and California’s Proposition 8 propel this token’s social relevance) are perennial. At the center of the stage, enclaved by a pristinely well-defined interior design of bold and saturated hues, the faux Picasso piece – a collage of unruly and undefined pastel colors– mimics the play’s controlling conceit of the LGBT experience in constant struggle with an inhospitable exterior world.
Berlin’s latest slay ride to the land of mistletoe kisses and an impish fairy (played by Actors’ Equity member Ford Flannagan) who climbs into chimneys and pops out of decorative wall pieces is elevated by its aesthetic dexterity and commitment to critical introspection. Berlin’s retelling of this Yuletide story is no hackneyed Christmas wonderland.
She concocts a scrumptious feast of palatable twists complemented with a pudding of the protagonists’ holiday guests – a suicidal brother distressed over his estrangement from his evangelically homophobic wife because of his affair with a mouse and a despotic mother who is more esurient for control over her son’s life than she is truly homophobic – and the mayhem they inflict on the Hollywood Hills couple.
A series of visitations by ghosts of Christmas past akin to the biography of Ebenezer Scrooge are finished with a desert cogitation in Act 2 that proffers a dialogue so heartwarmingly potent it makes a once mirthful audience need “Puffs” indeed for the remainder of the denouement.
And with the playful assistance of an equally unwavering troupe (Starlet Knight as the tongue-in-check prototype Southern Belle mother – Doris Dobson – and Keith Fitzgerald as the unabashedly proud iconoclast boyfriend – Tony Pirelli – are particularly winsome), this production is ripe to answer Scott Dobson’s (performed by a promising Trevor Kimball) psychological dilemma: In the face of further subverting his extant familial disequilibrium, does he compromise his sexual identity for the holiday or speak up for himself in hopes that some miracle shepherds his mother to unquestioning acceptance of his personhood?
The cogent answer to this question comes at the poignant apogee in Act 2 when Scott Dobson is visited by the apparition of his deceased boyfriend – Brian – whose fatal battle with AIDS gives him the prescience to enlighten Scott that life is over too soon. This touching and earnest discernment prompts Scott to confront his mother honestly as a gay man before the destructive force of silence permanently severs any fleeting vestige of their mother-son symbiosis.
Unsurprisingly, it is a refreshing and savory eggnog of a story. Through a sequence of a breaktakingly charming set, Christmas mysticism and mayhem and a jovial cast, Berlin and Dallas are astute in their respective artistries to produce a narrative that stays true to the core values of the Richmond Triangle Players. It is truly a production to be eagerly shared by all this upcoming holiday season, with a solemn message of the courage to speak up and live that will outlast the most banal iterations of Christmas folklore.
“Comfort & Joy” runs through December 11, 2010 at Richmond Triangle Players. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.richmondtriangleplayers.com/
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