Since the fine dramatic actor Helen Pafumi has written the Hub Theatre’s current offering, Merry, Happy…What? you may be fooled into thinking it is a heavy drama, full of Christmasy angst. It is not! The company has inaugurated its residency in the John Swayze Theare in Fairfax with something that is every cubic inch a kid’s play, full of kid characters doing things that make sense to kids. And it’s a good one, too.
You know the characters are kids (though played by adult actors) immediately because they love the snow. They dive into it, throw it on each other and on their own selves, make erratic shapes in it, try to catch it on their tongues, sled on it, skid on it, and pray, loudly and desperately, for more. They want a snow which shuts down the rest of the world, and transforms their universe into a crystalline playground. Not a one of them scrapes ice of his windshield, or freaks out about a report due tomorrow or missing a call. They are at an age where snow is the most magical thing in the world, just as the funniest word in the world is “poopies”.
Like their briefcase-wielding elders, however, the children of Merry, Happy…What? have a dilemma. Although the bombastic, awkward David (David Zimmerman) looks forward to Chanukah, and his bright and domineering friend Edna (Kristen Egermeier) is counting the days until Christmas, what are they to do with sweet Molly (Victoria Longwell)? Molly and her family celebrate something called the Feast of Loomie (phonetic), in which they feast on beef jerky and play balltastic (phonetic).
The dilemma is even more acute for Molly, an unusually sensitive and mature child who longs for her friends to share the deep and loopy love that her family pours out on their unique holiday. Like the rest of them, she longs for snow with all her heart. Why can’t she make them understand that the whole purpose of the Feast of Loomie is to call down the snow? She thinks: if only I could get them to understand how great balltastic – which appears to be a game in which one player drops a bunch of superballs and everybody else grabs as many as he can – is, they’ll understand everything. And, in the end, she finally explains the story of Loomie, and it turns out not to be loopy at all. Instead, everything – beef jerky, love of snow, balltastic – makes sense, and we discover that like all religions, it is founded in hope and a strong narrative line.
Pafumi’s dialogue is authentic throughout, and shows an astute understanding of a child’s mind and uninhibited speech. The performers – including Molly Dickerson, Tyler Herman, and Katie Jeffries in supporting roles – honor Pafumi’s spot-on work with spot-on performances. There is not a hint of patronizing or condescension in either play or performances. Longwell has the toughest job: her character has an adult understanding while being a child at every moment. Longwell carries it off superbly.
The show includes an actual kid – guitarist Eli Pafumi, the playwright’s son, who wrote the original music and plays it with professional aplomb. A few of Pafumi’s songs leaven the narrative. While singing is not Longwell’s long suit, when the ensemble joins in, the room rocks with a blizzard of joy, and scenic designer Jessica Moretti’s gorgeous, snowflake-inspired backdrop seems to undulate.
And then it begins to snow.
By Helen Pafumi
Directed by Abigail Isaac
Original music by Eli Pafumi
Produced by Hub Theatre
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Merry, Happy … What? closes Dec 23, 2010. Click here for details.