'Seasons Readings' a stocking full of surprises
It was not the usual holiday theatrical fare and that was quite all right with the full house of people that had gathered Dec. 16 at the Westport Woman's Club.
The attraction was "Seasons Readings," holiday-themed, whimsical short plays and stories read by a quintet of professional actors under the direction of Carole Schweid. a principal of JIB Productions. For many years, JIB has produced a popular "Play With Your Food" lunchtime series of performances. This new production was a chance to "offer audiences fresh and provocative holiday-oriented material and in the evening," according to JIB co-principal Nancy Diamond.
The featured actors came to the informal stage with impressive resumes. Alison Cimet has appeared on Broadway in "A Tale of Two Cities," local theater and numerous TV commercials. Tom Zingarelli is a veteran actor, director and producer of 35 years who may be best known as the star of the "Tall Tales" video series for children about American folk heroes. Susan Terry has appeared in Broadway shows "Evita" and "City of Angels," Off-Broadway, opera and in PBS TV productions. Chris Cafero has been featured in films, TV soaps and local theater. Joanna Keylock has made a splash in film, webisodes, local theater and Off-Broadway.
Schweid's selected just the right offbeat fare to feature. "You do a lot of reading through an enormous amount of stuff," she said. "Things pop out and grab you. You say, `I love it, others probably will, too.' There's all this great material that people don't normally hear. I think, cool, let's get a little Tuna Christmas in here."
"A Tuna Christmas" is a comedic play set in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas, and was first up among the readings. The readers used thick Texas accents, played up stereotypes and gave a glimpse at what an over-the-top holiday might be like Lone Star style.
Next in the program was "The Loudest Voice," written by Grace Paley and performed by Terry, who conveyed the experience of a Jewish girl named Shirley Abramowitz, who is put in the awkward position of having to narrate her school's Christmas pageant.
"On the Bridge," performed by Cafero and written by Frederick Stroppel, who was in attendance, told the tale of a chance encounter by a man and woman on a bridge on Christmas Eve. Both are down on their luck and depressed and seeking to end it all by jumping. The story was touching and provided a happy, heart-felt twist at the end.
Full of hilarity, "Christmas in Flatbush," penned by Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Wendy Wasserstein, offered the sentimental recollection of her first Christmas at Mount Holyoke College.
The concluding number was a piece by William Lederer titled "A Christmas Ballad for the Captain." Lederer was a career naval officer so it was not surprising that his work paid tribute to the kindness of a wartime leader at Christmastime.
A chorus of "Silent Night" concluded the evening. The audience then was treated to pastries and eggnog provided by The Pantry of Fairfield. There, audience members, producers, writers and cast alike mingled and shared their thoughts on the production.
"I liked how Carole put different styles and pieces together. There were lots of angles ... Judaism, Christianity," said Cimet. "There was enough variety to speak to everyone."
Her associate, Terry, agreed, "There was a wonderful potpourri of different views of the holidays. I saw a lot of smiling faces in the audience."
And audience members also had praise. "I thought it was fabulous, great Christmas spirit, wonderful acting," said Susanne Addessi of Westport. Her friend, Jeanette Linsey, added, "The selection was great, very diverse. They mixed it up really well."
Maxine Paul of Weston was particularly impressed. "I saw four Broadway shows in the last four weeks and enjoyed these pieces more than them. Every time I come here it's remarkable."