MILWAUKEE CHAMBER THEATRE’S ‘CHRISTMAS IN BABYLON’ IS A YULETIDE GEM

Reviewed by: Matthew Perta

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

What does the concept of family mean to you?  Comfort and joy?  Security during hard times? A clash of personalities leading to chaos?  Imagine if you headed a quiet little family, dreary but stable, mind you, and then suddenly you learned that your family was growing and changing –right smack in the middle of those crazed days leading up to Christmas, the so-called most wonderful time of the year?  Would it still be wonderful? 

Well, that’s exactly what happens to one working stiff named Terry McShane, resident of North Babylon, Long Island, in the year 2018, in a hilarious and thought-provoking work by playwright James DeVita called Christmas in Babylon, now making its world premiere on the stage of the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.

The play opens with Terry experiencing an emotional meltdown after being contacted out of the blue for a meeting with his ex-girlfriend, Kathleen O’Rourke, now head of a successful self-help empire.  Why does Ms. O’Rourke want to see a man she dated a quarter-of-a-century ago?  We soon learn she’s a woman with a secret.  A little later, at the meeting, it’s not Kathleen looking over the coffeehouse table at Terry – it’s her daughter, soft-spoken and intelligent Kelly, soon to become a full-fledged doctor.  And, taking care not to reveal too much of the plot, this is where things turn interesting and grow crazy for the McShanes and the O’Rourkes as they are forced to rethink the notion of what it means to be a family.  The little dilemma Santa left in their stockings comes to a head in a superbly-acted scene in a hotel room on Christmas Eve – it is there that both families finally let go of past grievances, embrace forgiveness and look for a fresh start in life.

Christmas in Babylon is a yuletide gem, offering an expert mix of side-splitting hilarity combined with valuable lessons for all of us to savor, not just during the holidays but all year long.

DeVita’s brilliant observations on the fragilities of family are vividly brought to life by a first-rate cast that makes us laugh, cry and think.  Their comedic timing is spot on.  Tom Klubertanz excels as neurotic blue-collar dad Terry McShane; Mary MacDonald Kerr plays off Klubertanz superbly as Denise, his manicurist wife who is a beacon of intelligence and understanding in the McShane household; Sara Zientek shines as their waitress daughter, the moody 20-something Abby, with a whole lot of growing up ahead of her; Laura Gray is mesmerizing as Terry’s ex-flame and self-help guru Kathleen O’Rourke, and Eva Nimmer delivers a finely-shaded performance as sensitive Kelly O’Rourke, Kathleen’s daughter.

James DeVita may be a native of Long Island, New York, but he’s a beloved playwright and actor right here in Wisconsin.  Christmas in Babylon is his third original play and judging from the enthusiastic response the opening night performance so rightfully received from a packed house, this work will rank among DeVita’s finest creations in his already impressive arsenal of theatrical accomplishments.

Christmas in Babylon is uproarious and heartwarming, a delicious treat for the holidays, ready to be unwrapped and enjoyed.

Christmas in Babylon runs now through Dec. 23 in the cozy Studio Theatre of the Broadway Theatre Center, located at 158 N. Broadway in downtown Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward.  Tickets can be purchased at the box office, Monday through Saturday from noon to 6 p.m., by phone at (414) 291-7800 or online at milwaukeechambertheatre.com.

Featured Photo: Mary MacDonald Kerr as Denise McShane, Eva Nimmer as Kelly O’Rourke, Sara Zientek as Abby McShane, Tom Klubertanz as Terry McShane. 

Credit: Paul Ruffolo Photography.