The holidays and family — is there any combination more awkward? That’s a question at the forefront of Pine, South Park Theatre’s latest production that follows the White family through a bittersweet Christmas as matriarch Rita (Joyce Miller) and her grown children mark the five-year anniversary of eldest son Colin’s death. Meanwhile, the ghost of Colin (David Craft) mills about the house, trying to speak to his family, albeit with varying success.
Scenic designer Jill Ekis effectively sets the mood, crafting a rustic family home and adjoining Christmas-tree farm that evoke the spirit of the season. Staging a Christmas play in the middle of summer is an interesting artistic choice — one that could have paid off for director Vince Ventura and his cast if the source material had been stronger. Playwright Eugenie Carabatsos attempts to paint family dysfunction with equal strokes of drama and comedy. But while the premise is certainly rife with possibilities, this story never quite gels. With jarring scene transitions and clunky character introductions, the first act is more uneven than the second, though one clever moment just before intermission does set up the story for its homestretch.
While mostly disagreeable in the opening scenes, Rita turns a corner in the second act, delivering a poignant monologue amidst a field of discarded Christmas trees that leaves you wishing for more moments to match that intensity. Other standout performances come from Dan Spanner as beleaguered youngest son Teddy — who might or might not be able to see the ghostly Colin — and Ashley Rice as Colin’s former fiancée, Rachel, who’s at last ready to move on with her life. Both actors imbue their performances with a naturalism that helps anchor this sometimes overwrought story.
However, any shortcomings in the production are not the fault of the cast. The actors play the quiet moments well, and almost everyone turns in a heartfelt speech before it’s over. But too many scenes rely on superficial squabbling and trite emotions. Ultimately, like Christmas in July, this production feels out of place.