SEASON'S GREETINGS, Candlelight's Forum Theatre. When a character here calls his novel "painfully witty or wittily painful," he also describes the play: Alan Ayckbourn has created a circus of dysfunction out of a family's Christmas reunion. The cascade of crises includes infidelity, spousal abuse, burned lamb, prematurely opened presents, self-destructing toys, and a soporific puppet show, but Ayckbourn refuses to linger long enough on any one predicament to make it very real. Since his goal is to orchestrate these disasters into a holiday meltdown, a successful staging must dispense with psychology and hurry this cartoon into a crescendo.
A decade ago Body Politic accomplished this feat during the play's local premiere. But unfortunately Larry Wyatt's revival is scattershot, marred by inconsistent accents, characters who don't connect even during the abortive trysts, and a sprawling stage that dilutes the mayhem. Worse, the catastrophes are too deliberate.
What this careful staging offers isn't so much a sense of the family's self-loathing as of the cast's apathy. Even the seemingly surefire puppet show, screamingly funny at the Body Politic, seems strident in Lawrence McCauley's hands rather than absurd, though Hollis Resnik has moments of truth as a randy wife. Tony Mockus pours all the menace of the fascist father into his voice, not his body, and so never seems a threat. But then nothing here ever gets too close for discomfort.