We Feel Harry’s Pain and Depression Acutely in “Harry’s Christmas” At Tri-C East
By Marjorie Preston
The Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) Eastern Campus Theatre Arts Department production of the one-man show “Harry’s Christmas” by Steven Berkhoff, now at the Tri-C East Studio Theatre, is a study in depression and anxiety. “Harry’s Christmas” is powerfully, deeply expressed through the rantings of an alcoholic, pill-addicted man so sad and unhinged that the voice of reason in his head is being slowly drowned out.
Single, forty-year-old Harry Glebe (Allen Branstein), alone in his flat somewhere in England, is counting down the days until Christmas. Unfortunately, the tree is a little light on Christmas cards as decorations and Harry is beginning to get desperate to feel less lonely and unpopular. “Christmas is like an avalanche coming,” he moans.
In one moment he’s decrying the type of person who sends out bunches of Christmas cards as a person who prepares for “war or an obstacle course,” and the next he’s jumping up and down, running maniacally to receive a seventh Christmas card.
But with Harry, any happiness is short-lived. Even a phone conversation with his mother or a friend with whom he’s been out of touch provokes tremendous social anxiety, which provokes feelings of worthlessness, with which Harry copes by downing more and more alcohol and pills. “My whole body feels like one giant verruca,” he complains.
At first, his inner, judgmental voice – possibly his conscience, or that of a former therapist – is confident and even a bit bullying, calling him a “frightened little worm,” or telling him to “make an effort, extend a hand and be brave.” But during the five days in which the play takes place, Harry gives in to his anxiety and his growing addictions, and this inner voice falls silent as Harry seeks to eliminate his pain completely and descend into fantasy.
Branstein’s range is wide, from being giddy at the receipt of a Christmas card to being awash in sadness, holding an imaginary woman and pouting, “This space to let.” He capably shows us Harry’s brief manic periods, his many depressed periods, and his confident inner voice, switching emotions quickly and maintaining each distinct voice.
Director Brian Zoldessy has mined the script for Harry’s many changes of dynamic and voice while maintaining a core personality for Harry that is unmistakably one depressed man. Set Designers Marcus Dana and Connie Hecker have created a set that surrounds poor Harry with dozens of happy Christmas cards and good wishes, presumably from years past, while Harry’s reality reflects his living room containing a sad little Christmas tree, minimal furniture and a phone, a TV and radio, but mostly four pill bottles and five bottles of alcohol scattered around.
“Harry’s Christmas” is one most of us don’t like to think about, the Christmas endured by the sad, the lonely, the depressed. In Zoldessy and Branstein’s capable hands, the “desperately sad” man in “Harry’s Christmas” is real and we feel his pain acutely.
“Harry’s Christmas” plays through December 16, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Free parking is available in the B lot during performances, near the entrance to the Liberal Arts/ Performing Arts building. For tickets or more information, call (216) 987-2438 or visit www.tri-c.edu/easttheatre. There are mature themes and language, alcohol and drug use.
**Edited on 12/10 to include Connie Hecker as one of the scenic designers. -mp