Dysfunctional families - folks who have difficulty being warm and supporting with their kin - seem to be a common denominator in holiday shows.
In Buck Busfield's play "A Pail of Grace," the unhappy family includes a loveable loser named Les - played by B Street regular David Pierini. Les attended law school. But after several tries, he still hasn't passed the bar exam - a situation he attempts to rationalize.
Les: Lots of folks have law degrees that have never used them. Gandhi, Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela, Tony LaRussa…
Mom: But those are all successful men, darling."
That's Mom, reminding Les he doesn't measure up. Les also has a stressed-out sister who likes to vent.
Sister: "I have two rabid little monkeys for children, who insist on breaking everything they see. And a husband who insists on buying the very best of everything. Not a good combination. And a father who is sick, and a brother who would poke his eyes out to get his father's attention.
Everyone's been thrown for a loop because the family patriarch heard the call of God while sipping coffee at Starbucks, and walked away from his financial empire to serve the needy. This triggers a legal battle over the family business assets - an odd twist in a holiday comedy. But Busfield pulls off a magical ending, and this cleverly arranged finale is perhaps the best reason to see this play.
Dysfunctional kin are also critical in "A Christmas Carol." The genial Fred annually invites cantankerous Uncle Scrooge to dinner, and gets a rude reply.
Scrooge: If I could work my will, every IDIOT who goes about with Merry Christmas on his lips would be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.
Scrooge: Nephew! (pause) Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.
And when Scrooge is asked to aid the poor, his response is icy:
Scrooge: Business, gentlemen! Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon!!
So what's new about this holiday evergreen, or perhaps I should say ritual? For starters, Gregg Coffin has re-orchestrated the music, which now sounds brighter and more nimble than before. And this year's cast invests the familiar scenes with a tangible sense of purpose and conviction.
Best of all is the adorable Max Miller, a four-year-old novice who dazzles everybody with his big line at the end.
Scrooge: And so, as Tiny Tim observed….
Tiny Tim: God Bless Us, Every One!
Emotional warmth and forgiveness work wonders in both of these productions, revealing dysfunctional, selfish behavior as an almost comical strategy for life. And happy endings play especially well in December, whether you're at the B Street or the Sacramento Theater Company.