Laughter, mystery and confessions make this new Christmas play a hit at Bas Bleu Theatre

There are countless Christmas and holiday movies and plays out this time a year, and I’m a sucker for all of them. A newcomer to the genre is How to Survive Your Family at Christmas, a new play by William Missouri Downs that I truly enjoyed as one worthy of adding to the list of holiday traditions. It’s so new, in fact, that Bas Bleu is only the third theatre to produce the play. Indeed, there is a bit of fluidity in the script as the playwright adds nods to the state or city in which the production is playing, so keep an ear out.

Now playing at Bas Bleu in Fort Collins, the Christmas comedy is directed by Jeffrey Biggers, and the action is set in 1975 Chicago. Loretta (Elisabeth Sells) has returned to her hometown after two years away at Harvard, but she’s not yet gone home. Instead, she goes to church to confess just how different she feels from her family and explains why she can’t visit her parents. When Loretta’s love interest comes looking for her, she is forced to confront how very different their two families are. He’s a Kennedy, she’s a Nutt. Enough said.

Meanwhile, her parents, Jerry (Michael Robinson) and Rosy (Kelly Foerster) hopefully await the possible arrival of their daughter.

The play is set on a stage with three distinct scenes: the Nutt’s living room, adorned with commemorative plates of presidents past, a church confessional and Mr. Nutt’s hat shop. The three-part  layout allows the audience to see all the characters’ reactions as Loretta attempts to phone her parents from church and alert them to her arrival. This unique stage design offers lots of laughter and keeps the audience guessing as to which will be used when. While offstage, Mr. Nutt, a self-proclaimed Scrooge, contends with persistent Christmas carolers who eventually fight back.

Costumes were basic and fit with 1975 — think Christmas plaid pants and sweater vests. All, that is, except for the nose ring worn by Loretta, an inconsistency with the period that irritated and distracted me throughout the nearly two-hour play.

There is a clear chemistry between the two parents played by Foerster and Robinson as they play off one another beautifully, each inciting the other. However, a clear 1970s misogyny exists throughout the play, and while that was indeed apropos (Latin for ‘of the times,’ Mr. Nutt explains), it was still a bit shocking and unfunny for me, which I feel was meant to be the point.

As Loretta, Sells carries the show as she narrates the story with poise, humor and facial expressions that alone could make you laugh out loud.

Like many Christmas plays and movies I’ve come to love — aside from the fact that Loretta has returned from college at Christmastime — this story is not so much about Christmas as it is about parents and their struggle to do right by their children. It’s about those children finding their place in the world even if it’s very far from where their parents are. And mostly, it’s about moving forward and learning to love and accept who you are and why you’re you.

But there’s also some great advice in there about surviving your family at Christmas. Downs adds laughter throughout with lots of running jokes — there’s one about Latin and how well Mr. Nutt knows it that carries throughout the play and cultural references — think presidents, Catholics and carolers. It’s sure to bring a smile to your face as you reminisce about Christmases past and just how exactly you survived them.