How to Survive the Holidays (for the Near-Suicidal)

For anyone who feels disheartened by the Christmas decorations going up earlier and earlier every year and the thought of spending this holiday once again with boilermakers in an Irish bar, Lonesome Winter by Joshua Conkel and Megan Hill may be just the ticket. Winter Lipschitz (Megan Hill) is a shopaholic and social recluse who barely interacts with anyone except for her cat Sparkles (Joshua Conkel), a surly, demanding animal with lots of attitude and some unusual talents: he makes crank calls to her at her job as a phone operator at a home shopping channel and texts unflattering messages about her to her relatives. Living in a cluttered house filled with clothes she bought but never wore and other treasures, in debt over her eyeballs, and reduced to eating cat food on her lunch sandwich, Winter decides to end it all. Mercifully, Sparkles dials 911 and saves her life. Avery Lipschitz (Kirsten Hopkins), her sister, takes it upon herself to call in life coach Debbie (Nicole Beerman), who proceeds to make the sinking ship of Winter’s life again somewhat seaworthy.

Under the competent direction of Meg Sturiano, who moves the many blackout scenes (I would have preferred to have the scene changes happen in enough light) along at a decent pace, Lonesome Winter takes aim at a great number of our beloved traditions. The main one is the heartwarming “true to life” Christmas special, where a lost soul is pulled back from perdition by the beneficent forces of the universe, here a platitudes-spouting life coach who may or may not be an angel, who stages karaoke parties and make-overs, and works overtime to boost the down-on-herself Winter. The tone of the play is less one of satire than one of parody. This allows the playwrights to stay close enough to the matrix of their targets; one could imagine that they are not just knowledgeable but aficionados of the kitsch they are skewering.

The performances are all excellent, and never too much over the top. Lonesome Winter begins with a very amusing fantasy sequence in which Winter imagines herself the host of the home shopping show, which sets the rules of the game perfectly. In light of what follows, it sets up the hope and desperation of the title character as a gap so wide that it would take a miracle to overcome it. Even Sparkles the cat, played as a bitchy queen, knows to skedaddle off stage seconds before we get exasperated. When Sparkles o.d.'s on pain killers and poinsettia leaves and “goes to the heavy-side lair” to the music of “Memories” from Cats, his performance has earned this last laugh and the silly pay-off. Bobby (Nick Lewis) gives a fine performance as Bobby, who is as much a social misfit as Winter, but cannot fully give her what she needs.

The music covers every rendition of Christmas songs we will hear during this and every holiday season, and the sound design and use of this music is excellent (Meg Sturiano, sound design). Sound makes the final scene, which I liked for its minimalist choice and sweet bow to both the parody and the real emotional side that this play touches on.

A small parody in a small theater, Lonesome Winter is delightful - if perhaps not as biting as it could be - but entertaining throughout so that it is a very apt trifle for this season of charity, kindness and suicidal tendencies.

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