Addicted to Christmas
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
July 15, 2007
David Patrick Stearns's new play, Addicted to Christmas, is actually two plays in one. The first one is a dark comedy; the second, an existential meditation. Both plays have their moments, but the second is the far more interesting one. It's a shame that Stearns doesn't introduce it until Addicted to Christmas's second act because, to my mind, that's when the play really starts.
Set in present day New York, Addicted to Christmas introduces us to Jody, a Christmas-obsessed young woman (she celebrates it every day) who saves sad sack Henry from throwing himself off the Staten Island Ferry. She brings him home, where Henry meets her roommates: Peter, a middle-aged party boy recovering from the Studio 54 days; and Al, a surly, hard-drinking older fellow with a penchant for strippers. Together the three roomies plan an elaborate heist to steal the decorations off the Christmas tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an operation they draft Henry for. The newbie is naturally reluctant and resists at first. But, he soon finds out that he has no choice but to help them.
Henry makes that discovery about the same time Stearns drops a bomb-sized plot twist that would impress M. Night Shyamalan. Far be it for me to reveal what it is, but it's substantial enough to send Addicted to Christmas into another, far more ambitious (and substantive) stratosphere.
The problem with introducing it as late as Stearns does is that it feels like a bait-and-switch. The audience cruises along for the first act thinking they're watching a loony, rambunctious comedy only to discover in the second act that they're actually watching a cosmic mortality play. The change is so sudden that one may feel a bit cheated—that is until they realize that Addicted to Christmas has morphed into a potentially far more satisfying endeavor. Audience members may then wonder why Stearns didn't make the switch sooner.
The cast was a bit shaky on the night I attended (I saw the first of their four scheduled performances), but will undoubtedly improve as the run progresses. James Patrick Flynn has trouble modulating Al's gruffness, but is otherwise a welcome veteran presence. As Henry, Andrew Giarolo sometimes speaks too softly to be heard in the cozy Where Eagles Dare Theatre, but makes up for it by being generally endearing. Billy Hipkins gets Peter's jittery energy just right, even if it sometimes is too much of a good thing. On a craft level, Jordana Oberman is the most accomplished performer here, but as Jody she sometimes strains too hard for laughs instead of just playing the situation. Director Shari Johnson needs to keep a tighter rein on her cast, although she does make the most of the snug playing space.
From where I sit, Addicted to Christmas has the potential to probe its own depths even deeper. There's a lot to mine, and I hope Stearns sees fit to do so in the future.