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A Peppermint Patty Christmas

The Strand Theater offers a peak inside one dysfunctional family's holiday circus

Photo: , License: N/A, Created: 2010:11:22 21:22:31

The cast of A Peppermint Patty Christmas smiles through the dysfunction.

A Peppermint Patty Christmas

By Kate Bishop

At the Strand Theater through Dec. 18.

Confession: Did not make the Charlie Brown, Patty, and Marcie connection until it was spelled out onstage in this dysfunctional family holiday tale at the charmingly petite Strand Theater. But those character names are the only real nod to the children’s cartoon in Kate Bishop’s A Peppermint Patty Christmas, directed by Da’Minique M. Williams. And that’s a good thing, because there are plenty of other factors to which the audience can relate. Drunk daddy? Yup. Single-mom sister with out-of-control teenager? Sure. Mom depressed and sister repressed? Got it. Just another holiday spent fighting and lying, but this time the truth comes home.

The Strand’s small space is the stage. Audience seats are a few feet in front of and behind the action and the set mirrors Christmas’ invasive nature: huge whimsical murals on the north and south walls depict snow globes 15 feet tall and filled with snowmen and bright colors. There’s a Christmas tree in the corner near a “kitchen,” a round dining room table, and a small sitting area with a bar. Ted (Alex Hacker), the father of the Bialecki family, answers a phone made out of candy canes and garland—every prop is either made out of seasonal flotsam or decorated with it, like a snowman mug or those cheap plastic serving bowls you can find at Rite Aid through December. It’s a nice touch from scenic designer David Cunningham.

Ted freaks out on the phone because he can’t get a good price on the rowhouse they are losing to foreclosure, but he just grumps and huffs and keeps it to himself. Mom Rita (Lucie Poirier) hangs ornaments on the tree, oldest daughter Ronnie (Caroline C. Kiebach) prepares food (tinsel), and teenage son Sam (Melissa Tillery with a dark Bieber haircut) plays video games—on a blank TV screen, another witty touch—with gusto.

Younger daughter Patty (Mattie Rogers) soon arrives with her “roommate” Marcie (Kamilah Sharufa) from New York. Patty promised to visit her parents, anticipating the stress of relating with relatives that are not so much intolerant but defensive and shy of what they don’t understand. Such is Marcie, who was raised Muslim and doesn’t believe in God, though she’s writing her dissertation on Christmas rituals. She wants to observe what a “normal” Catholic family does during the holidays, which mystifies the Bialeckis.

Frankly, Patty appears happy her family’s attention is deflected away from her—though there’s plenty of other distractions. Sam acts out, causing Ronnie to say what a pain in the ass he is too many times out loud. Rita obsesses about the weather. And Ted practically disappears—pretty regular family crap here. Marcie’s energetic speeches about the holiday’s increasing commercialism and how the story of Jesus’ birth is reflected in many other religions and cults doesn’t fall on deaf ears as much as it compounds the family’s confusion about just who this young woman is. Patty is proud of her girlfriend’s smarts but doesn’t help the misunderstandings of her silly sheltered family nor Marcie’s feelings about it.

When Ronnie and Rita take Marcie to midnight mass—for research—Patty and Sam have an enlightening talk while watching the animated classic Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, during which they realize they didn’t so much know the other as assume shit. Patty tries to curb Sam’s use of the word “gay” before figuring out he knows she is a lesbian and he himself has gay friends. He’s still an asshole kid who puts a broken ornament in his mom’s drink and wants to use the rat poison he has stashed but, as usual, this kid knows more than the adults give him credit for.

Holidays—even when they amount to a short 36 hours of family time—bring out emotional baggage that you thought you hadn’t packed, and throwing a lover into the mix can seem to extend the minutes in each hour. Patty and Marcie get deep into it when they’re alone, and Marcie is pissed. Ronnie never seems to see her son for who he is, and Ted is hiding terrible news. Oh, and Rita is a secret smoker. All of the actors have an energy and a physicality that fills the small set when it’s their turn to work the room, while also remaining generous to the others—Sharufa and Rogers are especially on-point when rolling their eyes and shrugging at each other as sisters do.

Why put all this normative dysfunction onstage in the first place when so many see it played out in their own families? Sometimes we all feel like Charlie Brown with his sad little Christmas tree. Art reflects life, and relating to others makes the relationships we choose and inherit a little easier to deal with.

The Strand Theater’s Toiletries for Tickets campaign offers two-for-one tickets to theatergoers bringing toiletries, toys, clothing, blankets, and canned food. Toys must be new and in the original, unopened package. All items will be donated to Project PLASE.

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