CHRISTMAS IN MAY
by Harvey Perr
published May 15, 2009
Christmas Is Miles Away
now playing Off Broadway at the Connelly Theater
through May 23
It is no secret that plays cannot exist by honesty alone, but it sure helps, given the almost willful lengths so many young
playwrights go to juice up their plays by lingering on the degree and variety of phoniness in the world they know, to come across a
playwright like Chloe Moss (this year’s winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize), who values honesty. In Christmas Is Miles Away, the coming-of-age drama which the Babel Theatre Project has brought to us, Ms.
Moss weaves a quite spectacular tapestry out of the simplest of fabrics: three inarticulate teen-agers, dependent on each other, attempt to
find the pattern of their individual lives, and, in the process, risk shattering the fragile and inchoate feelings they glean between
Theirs is not an unfamiliar story, but Moss manages to breathe fresh life into it. Luke and Christie are pals who can’t see the
future without one another. But, before long, outside forces alter their lives. Luke’s father dies and, almost simultaneously, Julie comes
into his life. Luke – on the surface, the more sensitive of the two – fights his way through the confusions these changes bring. Christie’s
greater assurance proves to be a front for a set of private fears, and he is ultimately swallowed up by an impending war that disrupts his
relationship with the others. Julie, who, as a character, could have faded away under less assured hands, possesses strengths that buoy
them all up but prove most valuable to her own survival.
That’s all there is to it, but Geordie Broadwater, in his quietly intelligent direction, perceives it as a stream that carries
the three of them along in its natural current. There is no fussiness here. And just as Moss’s sense of the North Country English accents
raises language to a level of poetry that reminds one of the great Irish dramatists, the purity of the production turns three ordinary
adolescents into near-mythic archetypes.
The performances of Alex Fast as Christie, Emily Landham as Julie, and especially Roger Lirtsman as the sad-eyed Luke, not only
plow through their Manchester dialects with ease, but convey, without any dramatic flourish, a deep sense of real behavior. And Daniel
Zimmeman’s set design frames Luke’s bedroom, in all its dampness and clutter, as if it’s a tiny world unto itself, and, in one beautifully
conceived moment, alters the way we view not only the room but the characters living within it.
There is nothing really new in any of this; you’re apt to feel as if
this is territory that has been explored and mined many times before. And it falls short of breaking your heart; it is almost as if breaking
your heart is beside the point. But there is a fresh breeze wafting through the dankness, and, in the end, it sticks to your ribs. That’s
because Chloe Moss is such an honest writer and Christmas is Miles Away is, at its core, so
harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com
all photos are by Rachel Roberts