Tir Na’s ‘Winemaker’: A different Christmas comedy
SOMERVILLE – It’s the kind of show only the Irish could do. It’s the kind of show that only the Irish would want to do.
“The Return of the Winemaker,” a Tir Na Theatre production now at the Davis Square Theatre, is sacrilegious, disrespectful, offensive – and absolutely hilarious.
If you’re looking for a dramatic departure from typical holiday fare, Bernard McMullan’s dark comedy – subtitled “An Irish Christmas Comedy” – is your cup of tea. Or, in this case, glass of wine, beer, or whiskey. Director Carmel O’Reilly and a spot-on cast will fracture your funnybone.
The backstory: Mary and Joseph, it turns out, didn’t have their child in Bethlehem. Instead, Jesus (Derry Woodhouse, a Tir Na regular) was born in the village of Ballygoura in County Galway on Dec. 24, 1975 to be exact.
Tir Na producing/artistic director Colin Hamel is pubkeeper Paddy Joyce, a hale fellow well met, who is on hand that fateful Christmas Eve when Mary and Joseph show up after closing with an urgent request: giving Mary shelter while she delivers her child.
The estimable Nancy E. Carroll is always at home in Irish-themed productions or roles such as Huntington’s production of Ronan Noone’s “Brendan,” Gloucester Stage’s “The New Electric Ballroom” or Tir Na’s “Trad.”
Here she is Peggy Joyce, Paddy’s wife, somewhat skeptical of his story of the virgin birth and the child left at the pub on Christmas Eve.
But Paddy and Peggy raise Jesus as their own. There are hiccups – he was a metalhead at the age of 15 and there was a time he disappeared for 40 days – and there was talk of Jesus’ powers, as he cured a few goats of liver fluke in his youth and there was talk he was able to traverse Walsh’s bog on foot.
But no one thought too much about it until one day, at the age of 30, he turned water into wine.
All of a sudden, he was MVP of the area, persuaded to quit his job as carpenter and spread the gospel by making free booze for area pubs.
It’s all going swimmingly for Paddy and the area pubs until God the Father (Stephen Russell) gets into a bit of a funk, channeling his inner Elvis, complete with jump suit and guitar, worrying his girlfriend Marilyn (Carroll again, this time in a flowing blonde wig).
The weight of the world is wearing him down and Marilyn and God decide it’s time he got some help.
He summons Jesus and tells him the time has come to return to heaven.
God and Marilyn agree to let Jesus stay for his birthday celebration and leave the day after Christmas – St. Stephen’s Day.
The news has Paddy sending Jesus into the water house of the new reservoir, in an around-the-clock winemaking mode, even installing a catheter to make those pesky bathroom breaks unnecessary .
Paddy decides the best move is to invite Marilyn and God to his home for Christmas in a last-ditch effort to derail Jesus’ departure.
Paddy’s mission is clear: cozy up to God The Father during the visit and get him to change his mind.
“I’m a big fan of your work,” he confides to God The Father as he poses for a selfie. “Here’s an old photo of you over here.”
Paddy seeks brownie points from both and Marilyn for not only raising Jesus for 40 years, but not fully exploiting his fame.
“I could have hung him on a cross and sold some tickets.”
Paddy is also sanguine about Jesus’ newfound fame.
“I don’t think if he was turning turnips into onions he’s be as popular.”
A meeting of the village is called, and it is up tippling Sister Maura (Carroll yet one more time) to come up with a plan that might get Jesus to stay.
Her idea: Help Jesus to get to “know” someone, in the Biblical sense.
That sets the stage for a scene that defies description in a family newspaper or family blog, for that matter.
Can the impolitic Paddy get God to change his mind?
Will God get out of his funk and his Elvis phase?
Will the county run dry?
You’ll just have to get to the Davis Square Theatre to find out. Be prepared to laugh until it hurts.
The Tir Na Productions presentation of Bernard McMullan’s “Return of the Winemaker.” Directed by Carmel O’Reilly. Costume design by Kathy Rushe. Lighting design by Mac Young. Stage manager Kayla Morello. At the Davis Square Theatre, 255 Elm St., Somerville, through Dec. 20. Tickets: winemaker.bpt.me.