The final play of the Bloomington Area Arts Council’s Performance Series is a premiere production of veteran playwright Mike Smith’s "Christmas Eve at the Flannigans." It’s a dramatically thought provoking play with strong direction by Jeremy Wilson and a cast of stars. The set of a Wisconsin farm house kitchen, dining area and living room by JimBob is realistic enough that I conscientiously wiped my feet on the rug at the door on my way back in to the Rose Firebay after intermission.
It is indeed "Christmas Eve at the Flannigans." The stockings are hung, the tree is trimmed. Plans are in place for mass in the evening, Santa Claus in the morning and dinner afterward. Oldest son Pat, Mark McIntyre, lives there and is looking after his slightly demented mother, Diane Kondrat. Youngest daughter Sharon a medical student, Jessica Rothert, is home for the holiday. Middle sister Angela, Amanda Scherle, drops by with presents and news of her children. There’s a bit of a mystery about a bearded stranger, Jeff Stone, who’s been walking about. There’s some tension about care for the mother and the usual newness and familiarity of family get togethers, but generally it’s a scene of comfort and support.
As "Christmas Eve at the Flannigans" develops we learn that twenty years ago the abusive father was shot to death by a son. The son Mike and a daughter Mollie disappeared. The mother went insane and had to be institutionalized for many years. She’s home now, but regularly sees the threatening figure of her husband and the sad figure of daughter Mollie. Son Pat took over the family, working at a mill and running the farm. Daughter Angela, an eighth grader with all of a young teen’s insecurities, had to handle losing her mother as well as her father along with public shame and humiliation. Youngest daughter Sharon was only three and seems relatively unscathed. The mysterious stranger had a key role in the past and in the present, but I need to leave him with his mystery.
This is a short review and I seem to have spent too much time on detail, but it’s playwright Mike Smith, director Jeremy Wilson and the actors fault. The situation, the evolving story, and the richness of each character are all worth dwelling upon. Diane Kondrat is a wonder as the graceful, thoughtful, demented mother. Mark McIntyre fills out the older brother’s core of real pride in his role as the family patriarch. Amanda Scherle is quite perfect as the young woman who’s tautly holding the parts of her life together with both affirmation and denial. Jessica Rothert had both ease and concern of the more innocent daughter. Jeff Stone as the stranger, well Jeff was both a warm and a passionate mystery.
Just time for a quick note about themes in "Christmas Eve at the Flannigans." It’s about coping and caring and salvation. It’s about the egotistical luxury of the assumption of guilt and its about "a drop of water remembering that it is the ocean."
Mike Smith’s "Christmas Eve at the Flannigans" at the John Waldron Arts Center plays this evening and Saturday night at eight. There’s a two o’clock matinee on Sunday and the final three performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday, June 1st 2nd and 3rd.
You can find an interview with director Jeremy Wilson and actors Jeff Stone and Jessica Rothert on our Arts Interviews page .