Playwright: Mia McCullough, Steven Simoncic, Joshua Rollins, Steven Peterson, MT Cozzola and Jake Carr. At: Step Up Productions at the Athenaeum, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Tickets: 773-935-6875; www.stepupproductions.org; $24. Runs through: Dec. 20
Just as some people compose their holiday gift lists throughout the year ( the that's-exactly-what-this-person-would-want-for-Christmas light can go on at any moment ), so do some playwrights, faced with the task of writing a short one-act play for a yuletide anthology show, start developing a topic while watching July fireworks, rather than handing out Halloween candy. Step Up Productions is lucky enough to have enlisted some of the first kind for its report on the seasonal spirit in 2015.
The theme uniting these six plays is the dissipation of sorrow, discord and uncertaintyevils capable of attack at all levels of our societyby a communal effort of will. This principle is illustrated at the very beginning of the evening by Mia McCullough's hard-drinking clan whose festivities consist of its relations disparaging one another's personal lifestyles until the recovering-alcoholic-Buddhist-vegetarian offers to eat turkey on this special daycompromise shaming her kin into declaring a temporary truce. Later, Steven Simoncic's bereaved family is comforted by letters and gifts pre-ordered by the now-deceased matriarch for Christmas delivery. These blessings are not just the province of het households, howeverJake Carr's backpacking-in-Europe lesbian couple express misgivings over their plan to adopt a child, but are assured of their parenting skills by a pair of elderly domestic survivors sharing a train to London.
The other three plays, by contrast, suffer from sketch-comedy characters assigned too much responsibility for plot reversals. Steven Peterson's winter-stressed young couple don't resolve their differences so much as surrender to attrition. Joshua Rollins proposes a matronly woman celebrating Christmas Eve at home with television, popcorn and whiskey, only to be interrupted by a cohabitant cast so close in age and appearance that we are unsure if it is her daughter, her sister, her lover, or a ghost from the future. Most puzzling is the dynamic in MT Cozzola's office party where a mousy clerk lavishes expensive presents on an unwary temp in a display of largesse reaching stalker proportions, whereupon the recipient joins in the charade to a likewise disturbing extreme, at which point co-workers burst in and dance to "Disco Christmas."
Segmented programs like this are often marred by widely varying tonal ranges, but when the outcome in every case is the achievement of, if not precisely happiness, then peace and contentment, at least for the moment, our consolation is that serenity ( even in troubled times ) lies within our individual powers.