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‘Seasons Greetings’ takes misfits to new holiday heights

The cast 'Season's Greetings' Northlight Theatre includes Rob Riley (from left) Heidi Kettenring Francis Guinan John Byrnes Matt Schwader.

The cast of "Season's Greetings" at Northlight Theatre includes Rob Riley (from left), Heidi Kettenring, Francis Guinan, John Byrnes and Matt Schwader.

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◆ Through Dec. 18

◆ Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie

◆ Tickets, $25-$60

◆ (847) 673-6300;

Updated: November 29, 2011 4:40PM

By all indications it will be a perfectly traditional holiday season at the well-kept home of Belinda and Neville, a suburban middle-class English pair who have been married for eight years and are the parents of young children.

The couple’s two-story Tudor home is richly decorated with a picture–perfect tree, festive garlands and wreaths. Christmas dinner is cooking in the kitchen. Gifts have been neatly wrapped. And plans already are underway for the post-Christmas Boxing Day, too.

Yet as anyone familiar with the work of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn might have guessed by now, the decor is a complete red herring. Domestic calamities are already in the making as nine adults, many related by blood or marriage, devolve into their very worst selves, with matters of sex, money, alcohol, mental illness, low self-esteem, rampant narcissism and all manner of marital and non-marital angst taking hold. There is much talk of children, though none appear onstage during the play. They would only be redundant. After all, who could be more infantile or needy than the adults in the room?

To play out this household farce in which human behavior goes thoroughly amok, director BJ Jones has assembled an A-list cast and each of the nine actors is in full throttle throughout. The toxic mix of revelers here includes Belinda (Heidi Kettenring), the beautiful, perfectionist wife and mother starved for the attention of her husband, Neville (Matt Schwader), a successful businessman who spends all his time tinkering with mechanical things; and Neville’s older, mentally disturbed, equally sex-starved and accident-prone sister, Phyllis (Amy Carle), who is married to the painfully devoted Bernard (Francis Guinan), a second-rate doctor whose annual puppet shows are his passion and everyone else’s tribulation.

Another wildly unhappy couple are friends of the hosts — Eddie (John Byrnes), a feckless fellow who also ignores his very pregnant wife, Pattie (Maggie Kettering). And then there is Belinda’s poor, bedraggled, wholly neurotic sister, Rachel (Ginger Lee McDermott), a literary assistant fervently hoping for a romantic connection with Clive (Steve Haggard), the acclaimed young novelist she is shepherding on a book tour. Unfortunately, it is her sister Belinda who has caught his eye.

Finally, seated in front of the telly, from where he cynically lashes out at civilization and airs all his own discontents, there is Harvey (Rob Riley), older brother to Neville and Phyllis — a former military man who supplies his nieces and nephews with the gift of guns.

First produced in 1980, just as the whole notion of dysfunctional holiday stories came into vogue, “Season’s Greetings” is a model of the form, with equal measures of bittersweet truth, long-simmering resentment, classic sex farce and pure wacko behavior part of the recipe. The whole thing goes on far too long. but watching this plum pudding of a cast is a gift all its own.

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