Christmas fatigue is not an acceptable excuse to pass on Happy Season to You, Acquaintance Name. Although this Abreact comedy was originally slated for a December run, the story is more about office politics than Yuletide anything — the holiday setting is primarily a heightening device. It stands to reason that if being snowed in at the office is bad, then being snowed in at the office on Christmas Eve is a special form of torture.
It's supposed to be the last day at work for Jason (Travis Grand), but after manager Bonnie (Michelle Becker) forces him and the few remaining employees to wait out their shifts despite the bad weather, the whole gang is stuck indefinitely with no one but a new young security guard to protect — or unintentionally menace — them. The players are confined to the employee break room, a dreary little place carefully appointed with touches of banality any office worker will appreciate. (Thanks to whoever butchered the "Youre Mother Doesnt Work Hear" notice and hung near-identical posters of waterfalls, one labeled SERENITY and the other SERVICE, expertly setting the tone.)
The play is essentially a vehicle for putting some over-the-top characters into a room together to see what they do. Accordingly, the staging is a little uneven: despite many meticulously timed gags, such as a fantastic wordless scene about coworker noise, there are moments when the actors' collective energy bottoms out or they awkwardly navigate around each other. Writers Sarah Fulmer and Mike McGettigan, the latter of whom also directs, concern themselves with mining the office dynamic for humor, and frequently strike gold. At the heart of this show are fellow office drones Becky (Dawn Bartley), Gwen (Rebecca Concepcion), and Autumn (Sean McGettigan; yes, that's Sean with a Y-chromosome), who perfectly embody the kind of forced-but-real friendship unique to coworkers. The interactions among these three, who vary widely in ages and attitudes, are a pleasure to watch: everything from little character quirks, to brilliantly timed rejoinders, to a recurring dialogue about rape that is funnier than it has any right to be, sparkles in the hands of these actors.
Contrasting these three are a few stumbles with regard to the characters of Jason, presented as the fish-out-of-water protagonist but often too unpleasant to be relatable, and Bonnie, whose motives toward Jason seem muddled between vengeance and evil for evil's sake. Becker plays convincingly vile, but with little exploration of why, it's a missed opportunity. Opening weekend audiences saw Brian Papandrea in the role of Rob, the security guard; he filled in for schedule-challenged Josh Campos, who will complete the run of the show. Papandrea made the role his own as a skittish pipsqueak subject to numerous pratfalls, quite impressive on this small stage; as for Campos, one must never presume to predict what he will do. The plot itself contains a few surprises and comes to a clever resolution, but the characters and bits at the forefront of the production are more than enough for a satisfying ninety minutes.
This was the first production I attended in the new Abreact space, and I can't be the first to express relief that it retains the atmosphere of the original. From the founders greeting patrons in the lobby to McGettigan calling out from the booth for pre-show music requests, the gritty, low-budget approach here makes way for a convivial richness. And mirroring the ragtag can-do of the theater are the misfits of Happy Season, who toe the line between believable and ridiculous, leaving plenty of laughter in their wake.