Throwing Parties

Rated 3.0

Buck Busfield’s new holiday play is a marvel of inconsistency. It offers funny situations with smart dialogue and physical comedy, while lugging along other elements one hopes the playwright will reconsider.

We’re introduced to an earthy, working class Italian-American family in present-day Michigan. Paul (Kurt Johnson) is an unemployed factory worker. His wife, Donna (Jamie Jones), holds two menial jobs. Their good-natured 20-something daughter, Sherry (Lindsay Carter), also works to cover the bills. Testy teenage son Johnny (Charles Keenan) periodically emerges to denounce everything, and there’s also a pretty woman, Crystal (Nicole Disson), who calls for Paul, raising Donna’s suspicions.

Slovenly cousin Donny (David Pierini) drops in, clutching the first of many beers. He peppers his conversation with high-pitched snippets of 1950s hit songs whenever Donna (Ritchie Valens’ “Donna”) or Sherry (Frankie Valli’s “Sherry”) are mentioned. This quickly becomes tiresome; by the time the other characters tell Donny to stop, this writer wanted to yell, “Amen!”

Providing comically spooky relief are two shabby old gents who appear at the door: fortune tellers named Dicky (dapper Dan Harlan) and Sandor (Mitch Agruss in a marvelous mute performance).

Busfield’s engineered several effective twists into his story. What begins as comedy takes a serious turn just before intermission, and the tears flow not long afterward. Holiday shows can’t hinge on heartache, so Busfield uses celestial hocus pocus to recover a life that appears to have been lost. He might have ended it there.

Instead, Busfield concludes with a scene that comes a cropper. A character announces a major change, producing a reaction in the others that stretches credulity, given what has come before. We can’t disclose more without spoiling the story, but it’s not the sort of news that would induce hugs in most households.

Of course, Busfield’s been known to revise his holiday plays after they open. It’s possible that, by next week, the finale may unfold differently.