The word had gone out that on that particular night — last Saturday — the world was about to end.
So why were all these people laughing?
They were at Penguin Rep in Stony Point, which kicked off its ambitious 34th season the way it has the past three seasons, with a clever comedy by Nyack playwright Tom Dudzick. It runs through June 12.
This one is “Greetings!” about Andy Gorski, a New York transplant who returns to his very Catholic Pittsburgh home at Christmas with Randi Stein, his Jewish-atheist fiancée, in tow. Andy brings Randi to Meet the Gorskis.
What follows, under Tom Caruso’s sure-handed direction, is a slight but charming story of the rekindling of spirit, Christmas or otherwise.
Before the briskly paced evening is over, assumptions will be challenged, old wounds opened, questions answered and a little magic woven.
Beth Fowler, a Tony nominee for “The Boy From Oz,” is Emily Gorski, a Pittsburgh housewife to former baseball pitcher Phil Gorski, played by Richard Kline, (forever remembered as the fun-loving Larry of TV’s “Three’s Company”).
Phil complains about their home — “the man who built this house must have been drunk,” he says — and about the neighbors who no longer take the time to hang Christmas decorations on their homes.
He sneaks a beer or two in the basement while Emily, the one who smooths things over, frets in the kitchen.
Fifteen years before the play’s 1990 setting, they would be Archie and Edith Bunker. Here, they’re the Gorskis, their roles just as secure, in performances that are natural and seamless.
Rusty Ross, last at Penguin in another Dudzick play, now called “The Miracle of South Division Street,” is back as the fast-talking Andy, ready to defend his girl to the old man.
Rachel Stern makes a fine Penguin debut as the no-nonsense Randi, who will not budge under Phil’s relentless questioning of her atheism, an outlook that runs headlong against his Baltimore Catechism. Still, there are cracks in her armor that Stern nimbly reveals.
Jonathan Fielding is Mickey, the Gorskis’ son with special needs, though — this being 1990 — a less-P.C. word is used.
(Dudzick’s real-life brother, Mike, had Down syndrome, inspiring not only the character of Mickey, but also of Georgie Pazinski in “Over the Tavern,” last year’s Dudzick offering at Penguin. Mike died in 2009.)
Mickey rocks back and forth,?his vocabulary limited to “Oh, boy!” and “Wow!” and “Hiya!”
But something’s not right, not typical, with Mickey, his mother says.
There’s a plot device that I won’t reveal here, but suffice it to say this Christmas won’t be like the others the Gorskis have celebrated, or like the Hanukkahs that Randi chose not to celebrate.
Just as with “South Division Street,” Dudzick masterfully ends the first act with a cliffhanger, one that sends the Penguin audience into the intermission with delight.
Critics have sniffed — and likely will continue to sniff — at Dudzick’s plays as too earnest, too sentimental and too sitcom-y, if there’s such a word.
“Greetings!” the play that put Dudzick on the map, is earnest, sentimental and, yes, a bit like a sitcom, a first cousin of “All in the Family.”
But Caruso’s cast fills James J. Fenton’s lovely set, and Patricia E. Doherty’s period costumes, with moments that linger — moments of laughter and heartfelt emotion that make for a memorable night at the theater.
But it’s not the end of the world.
“Greetings!” Weekends through June 12. 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 4 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. At Penguin Rep, 7 Crickettown Road, Stony Point. Mainstage subscriptions — for four plays — start at $92. Individual tickets are $34, with discounts for groups of 10 or more and those 30 and younger. 845-786-2873. Go to the Penguin Rep website.
Photo by Andrew M. Horn: The cast of “Greetings!” at Penguin Rep is, from left: Richard Kline, Jonathan Fielding, Rusty Ross, Rachel Stern and Beth Fowler.