Strange, stranger, strangest. This nervous, acrobatically absurd play amounts to a sort of demolition derby involving four of the most self-serving, exploitive characters imaginable. Smiling lies, shrewd manipulation and multiple infidelities and betrayals unwind, interspersed with “mad scenes” in which individual members of this nutty quartet go bonkers and sail over the top.
Playwright Harry Kondoleon sets up savagely funny confrontations in which these characters’ overt and hidden agendas collide. And Kondoleon spares no sacred cows. He skewers conventional, straight New York yuppies; gays; mother-daughter tensions; personality changes brought on by pregnancy; actors and their vanity—you name it. He even makes a few well-aimed, witty blasts at newspapers and the media.
But, amid the hostility and craziness, Kondoleon also drops in cool, deadly accurate passages of clarity. There are very effective, lyrical speeches about loneliness, isolation and longing.
The cast has a field day. Peter Mohrmann—coming off a notable appearance as a stiff businessman in the Delta King’s haunting play The Woman in Black—does a completely different kind of character here, and he does it very well. Mohrmann’s Nissim is a frantic ball of nerves, neuroses and misinformation, but he comes so perilously close to making sense that you can’t help but keep following what he says.
Others in the cast are Christine Nicholson (playing an insecure mother from hell), David Harris (playing a philandering actor) and Katherine Pappa (the actor’s girlfriend, though it would be treacherous to apply the word “love” to their relationship).
Harris shares the directing credit with Jerry Montoya, who directed the luminous coming-of-age fable Off the Map at the B Street earlier this year—a complete contrast to this story.
Playwright Kondoleon was a story, himself. Educated at Yale, he received a slew of fellowships—including one to study Balinese theater—and an Obie as the “most promising playwright” in the early 1980s. He moved through the theatrical world like a comet for a few years, but he died in 1984 at age 39 from AIDS.
Christmas on Mars is the antithesis of every other holiday show in town. This is a low- budget production with a few rough edges, but those bring it to a boil.