BWW Review: Seattle Public Theater's THE FLIGHT BEFORE XMAS: Lighthearted Holiday Schadenfreude
As part one of Seattle Public Theater's featured holiday double-header, "The Flight Before Xmas" manifests many peoples' worst nightmare: being stuck in an airport terminal when you need desperately to get to the final destination. Thankfully, audiences can laugh at other people dealing with this very stressful situation in Maggie Lee's sweet holiday comedy.
SeaTac airport, Christmas Eve: folks are waiting for their flight to San Francisco, but the flight keeps getting delayed. In this terminal are a mixed bag of folks--a dorky family wearing matching Hawaiian shirts (there's even a choreographed dance to "Let It Snow!"), a hardened business-woman who couldn't care less about the holidays (or can she?), a couple who fight about the double-life one has between college and home, some teens, tweens, a cranky grandmother, and a mysteriously calm man who entertains the children with stories from around the world. As the miffed airport check-in rep Penny (played by Skye Stephenson) anxiously waits for some good news from the airline, everyone else does their best to cope with that specific to the airport combination of boredom, annoyance, and hopelessness. Given how many times the flight is delayed in the show, it's easy to wonder whether the show actually takes place in hell (spoiler: it doesn't).
Directed by Amy Poisson, "The Flight Before Xmas" works with a collection of relatively unrelated subplots. A family of five-Ben (Tadd Morgan) and Nicole (Jenn Ruzumna) and their three daughters Lizzie (Lydia Hayes), Eleanor (Elora Coble), and Gemma (Nava Ruthfield) just want to celebrate the holidays in paradise, but Hawaii does not make everyone in the family feel too celebratory. Brother and sister Maya (Kaiya Crothall) and Harrison (Hersh Powers) try to find Harrison's cat that got loose in the airport while also trying to get along with each other. Laurel (Marisol Gonzalez) and Amanda (Tessa Weinland) are a college-aged couple who dread going to Christmas with Laurel's family. A second brother and sister duo, Owen (Diego Cruz) and Frances (Lauren Hwang) team up with Maya and Harrison, but the younger siblings keep awkwardly telling the older siblings to stop flirting. Margo (Kiki Abba) is just trying to keep her nose down and get her work done. Rosemary never seems to run out of things to complain about.
The best parts come when Manuel Cawaling's character Douglas brings the story to a screeching halt to tell his own stories to the young people. The terminal melts away as the folks in SeaTac transform into characters in Douglas's stories. For example, when Douglas regales about the tradition in Japan for families to celebrate Christmas with a giant bucket of KFC, the ensemble in the terminal become a dance troupe, deep fried wings and drumsticks in hand, doing a celebratory dance. There are several moments of folklore-in-fiction, one standout being the Polish folktale of the legend of the Christmas spider. Tadd Morgan's transformation of dorky dad into giddy Polish child is so, so funny, and hearing his repeated pronunciation of "shpeyedah!" (spider) is worth the price of admission.
As the workaholic Margo, Kiki Abba, as always, is a delight. It's hard to shift gears and focus your attention on anyone else in the show when she's on stage. Her reactions to other people are as funny (if not more funny) than the things that she's reacting to. She's hilariously impatient and uncomfortable with every interaction she has with a young person, and yet has good chemistry with them (especially Hersh Powers' gung-ho Harrison). As Laurel and Amanda, Marisol Gonzalez's more nervous Laurel plays off well against Tessa Weinland's straight-forward Amanda.
It's a relatable play that'll make you laugh and feel good. Though the pacing is a bit touch and go, it adds to the realism of the circumstances. Some problems do get resolved early, and other problems are more understated than others (just like in real life). It makes for a slippery narrative, but who's never been a little aggravated in an airport before?
While it's not a controversial show, it may teach you something. It's a sweet production--most of the problems get resolved about halfway through the show, but that's okay. Because it's a Christmas show, expect some prototypical sentimentality and fluff: the power of cookies, merriment-intolerant folks leaning in to the joy of Christmas, etc. Even still, it has that level of realism that makes the show charming and funny. At times, it can be a little too gushy, e.g. when Margo says that this Christmas in the SeaTac terminal has been one of the best Christmases she's had in years, or Douglas' backstory about why he's in the SeaTac terminal. But it makes for a really great Christmas show because it's heart-warming, relatable, and innocent. For this modern bedtime story, I give "The Flight Before Xmas" a tickled B+. Bring your family, and you can laugh at other peoples' expense together!
"The Flight Before Xmas" performs at the Seattle Public Theater through December 24, 2017. For tickets and information, visit them online at www.seattlepublictheatre.og.
*Update 12/14/17: All spellings of "Theater" in the venue name have been corrected