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Illinois Theatre Center’s ‘Greetings!’ is heartwarming

Lucy Zukaitis (from left) Robert McConnell Iris Lieberman John LiBrizzi Jeremy Keene star Illinois Theatre Center's 'Greetings!'

Lucy Zukaitis (from left), Robert McConnell, Iris Lieberman, John LiBrizzi and Jeremy Keene star in Illinois Theatre Center's "Greetings!"

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‘GREETINGS!’

♦ Through Dec. 18, with performances at 8 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays and 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays

♦ Illinois Theatre Center,
371 Artists Walk, Park Forest

♦ Tickets, $22 on Fridays and
Saturdays and $20 at all other times

♦ (708) 481-3510; ilthctr.org

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Updated: January 10, 2012 8:08AM



Andy Gorski is bringing his fiancee, Randi Stein, to meet his folks in Pittsburgh on Christmas Eve.

He’s a bit nervous as to what to expect when he introduces his intended to his seriously committed Catholic family.

It turns out that Andy was right to worry in “Greetings!” a funny and heartwarming comedy playing at Illinois Theatre Center in Park Forest.

It’s not so bad when Andy’s father, Phil, and his mother, Emily, find out that Randi is Jewish.

What really sets the sparks flying is when Dad finds out that Randi is also an atheist.

But Christmas is saved and wounds are healed when Andy’s young brother, Mickey — who has only been able to utter “wow!” and “oh boy!” — suddenly pops up with “Greetings!”

Although there’s a strong Frank Capra (who directed the beloved film “It’s a Wonderful Life”) feel to the show, surprisingly, this poignant comedy of “Greetings!” is rarely done.

Kudos to ITC for reviving this hilarious work by Tom Dudzick, who also wrote the popular “Over the Tavern,” in time for the holidays.

As directed by Etel Billing, the ITC ensemble in “Greeting!” pulls off a splendid production of the joy-filled, jewel of a show.

As the cranky father, John LiBrizzi is terrific, hurling riotous insults and one-liners with on-target comic timing.

When Dad finds his world turned upside down, he comes out fighting, especially since he’s been fighting inner demons all his life.

As the mother, Iris Lieberman delivers sweetness, compassion and dead-pan humor.

She gets the funniest line in the show when she questions why, after a Jew dies, friends and family of the deceased have to sit and shiver (sitting shivah).

Also contributing to the sterling cast is Robert McConnell as Andy and Lucy Zukaitis as Randi.

Although their parts are overshadowed by the parents, they do a fine job of projecting the younger generation’s new-world view.

The surprise performance of the show, though, is that of Jeremy Keene as Mickey, the mentally challenged brother.

Keene, in his area theater debut, is compelling as he plays opposite character roles.

The young actor is a find for ITC, and we hope to see him on stage again.

There’s plenty of tinsel and glitter in this comedy. But when the small colored Italian balls strung on the Christmas tree light up, it means more than what you’d expect from typical holiday trimmings.

Don’t miss “Greetings!” It’s a gem of a show that really is all about the magic of Christmas.

Betty Mohr is a local free-lance writer.

COMING SOON TO ILLINOIS THEATRE CENTER

In addition to “Greetings!” the 2011-12 season at the Park Forest-based equity theater includes:

(Jan. 27-Feb. 12) “BROKE-OLOGY” by Nathan Louis Jackson.

This new play is a stirring portrait of a black family. When a college student returns to his Kansas City home to help his brother care for their ill father, they find themselves strangely at odds.

(March 2-18) “THE COCKTAIL HOUR” by A.R. Gurney.

This modern comedy of manners is an examination of an overprivileged family that fights domestic battles while downing drinks.

An up-and-coming playwright must endure an evening with his wealthy parents as he breaks the news to them that they are the subject of his new play.

(April 13-29) “SHOWTUNE!,” the Jerry Herman revue.

This is a collection of hit songs from one of America’s most successful theater composers. “Showtune!” includes such recognizable Broadway tunes as “Hello, Dolly!,” “Mame” and “La Cage Aux Folles” in a high-stepping, toe-tapping celebration.

A BIT OF BACKGROUND

The Illinois Theatre Center was founded in 1976 by Steve and Etel Billig as the first equity professional theater in the far south suburbs.

Originally in the lower level of the Park Forest Public Library, the theater company moved to its current location in downtown Park Forest in 1999.

The theater is accessible and offers an assisted listening system for the hearing impaired.

In addition to the main stage series of six plays per season, Illinois Theatre Center offers the following programs:

THE DRAMA SCHOOL: Acting classes for children, teens and adults.

THE SCRIPT-IN-HAND SERIES: Saturday afternoon readings of classic plays.

THE SUMMERFEST MUSICAL: A major musical featuring a large cast consisting of local performers, college music and theater students, and professional guest artists.

FREE OUTDOOR CLASSICS: Presented each summer on the Park Forest Village Green adjacent to the theater. This program is sponsored by the village of Park Forest.

PROJECT SUMMER ARTS MARATHON: An arts day camp giving youngsters the opportunity to explore art, drama, music, dance and creative writing.

OUTREACH PROGRAMMING: A variety of ongoing projects designed to bring the theater experience to the physically and mentally challenged, the economically disadvantaged, ethnic minorities and all members of the community.



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