Here’s a recommendation for the perfect Christmas gift: tickets for the family and friends to “The Christmas Spirit” by Frederick Stroppel, now playing at the Phoenix Theatre through Dec. 18. It’s a clever and thought-provoking story that uses wonderful humor to get to those universal questions about relationships, our purpose in life and mostly, why do we wait for death to come knocking before we take life seriously.
When death comes knocking on the door of Julia Dowling, played by Melanie Calderwood with great emotion balanced by great humor, she invites him to Christmas dinner instead. Death, tempted by the opportunity to experience a real Christmas dinner with the warmth of a real family, roast goose with all the trimmings and complete with joyful children, agrees to a one-day extension for Julia. Of course, as in real life, dreams and hopes come crashing onto the shore of reality and truth. The consequences are deftly played out by the cast who quickly engage the audience with the perfect mix of humor and empathy.
Keith Dahlgren directs a cast of excellent actors who obviously enjoy working together. “Death” is played by Phillip Keiman a newcomer to the Phoenix, but clearly a seasoned actor who easily convinces us, with that genuine British accent, that he is a fun guy who is also a teacher a student, philosopher, “bureaucrat,” listener, enforcer and lover of M & M’s.
Julia’s daughter Beth, played by Phoenix’s new Managing Director Debra Rich Gettleman, uses humor and strong emotion to flawlessly show us Beth’s strengths and weaknesses. We are rooting for Beth, the family member tasked with balancing all the classic family dysfunction and her mother’s new, unexplainable demands.
The rest of the fine cast — Susan Connors, Eric Bischoff, Nick Horiatis, Shannon Bengston, George Bukota and Carlos Martinez — skillfully and convincingly help tell this wonderful story with unexpected twist and turns and surprising moments. It’s a story that needs telling. Life is short, mend fences sooner rather than later, know thyself and most important, keep your sense of humor!
— By Maggie Fimia