Five comedic Christmas carols of caustic codependency. That’s a tight summary of Matt Hoverman’s “Christmas Shorts,” the hilarious new show at the Cotuit Center for the Arts Black Box Theater.
The four-person cast brings to the show a Santa-sized amount of acting talent and splendid comic timing.
The entangled relationships displayed in these five “merry little comedies” range from contemptuous spouses to reunited exes to a weirdly mismatched teacher and student. There’s also a pair of overgrown college roommates and a couple who can’t escape the grip of their extended families.
Overall, the show is an excellent multi-part farce. The jokes, while ridiculous, are not merely frivolous, and the social commentary can be biting.
There’s also enough naughtiness in this naughty-and-nice collection that parents should think twice before bringing kids.
The shorts all take place in contemporary America and include farcical characters, but the diversity of settings and approaches is impressive. Mr. Hoverman is an Emmy Award-winning TV writer and playwright, and there’s sometimes a sitcom feel to the situations and interactions. Not in a dopey way, however, but in a sharp Norman Lear or Larry David sense.
It’s clear that a great deal of preparation went into keeping the show moving as smoothly and as smartly as it does. The director, Melinda Gallant, staged a reading of the play last January, and she has plainly thought through how to cast the show and block the action in a tight space.
Erin Trainor assists Ms. Gallant as the stage manager and technical director.
The rest of the credit goes to the phenomenal cast—Bobby Genereau, Frank Hughes Jr., Charlotte Green and Janet Geist Moore—who all play multiple roles.
In “Going Home,” newlyweds Greg and Cheryl (Mr. Genereau and Ms. Green) have resolved to spend Christmas together in their apartment. When Cheryl decides at the last minute to visit her dysfunctional family, Greg must try to stop her.
Mr. Genereau sets a wacky tone for the entire show in his first moments onstage as he sings along to popular holiday songs.
What happens next has a similar silliness to the third act of Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite,” titled “Visitor from Forest Hills,” in which parents of a bride-to-be attempt to cajole their daughter to leave a hotel bathroom in time to walk down the aisle.
Mr. Genereau and Ms. Green build quickly to a well-paced comedic conflict.
In “The Student,” a writing teacher and an adult education student (Mr. Genereau and Mr. Hughes) have a strange student-teacher conference that involves the sex lives of elves. To say more would be to give too much away.
With the quick scene and costume changes, it was enjoyable to see an actor transform into someone different in seconds. In this case, Mr. Genereau shed his holiday sweater from the first short and donned a jacket and tie to become the teacher in the second.
While Mr. Genereau plays the part with aplomb, the standout is Mr. Hughes, who has a gift for facial expressions that highlight his characters’ every mood.
“The Christmas Witch” tells the story of two roommates (Mr. Genereau and Mr. Hughes again) who find their relationship challenged when an ex-girlfriend (Ms. Geist Moore) shows up one evening.
This short is the most fanciful in the show, and all three actors help push it to its absurd limits.
In “Xmas Cards,” a conservative couple, Ned and Nelly (Mr. Hughes and Ms. Green), wheedle and needle each other as Ned tries to fill out their holiday cards.
Ms. Green, dressed in a black wig, plays her character with an understated sadism that literally brings Mr. Hughes’s character to his knees. She is in full command.
In “Nativity,” two strangers (Mr. Hughes and Ms. Geist Moore) meet in the waiting room of a Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, fertility clinic on Christmas morning.
The final short brings the four actors together for a poised and preposterous finish. Without spoiling the plot, it suffices to say that Ms. Geist Moore’s performance here is the strongest and most well-rounded of the whole show. It should not be missed.