I consider Frank O’Donnell to be the funniest person by far in Rhode Island. I laugh just having a conversation with him. And he has me in stitches when he is on stage at Twin River. So when he writes and co-directs a new play “all the way in Woonsocket,” I’m eager to take the 20-mile trip.
O’Donnell’s humor is all over the hysterically funny “Ant’ny Claus: A Dysfunctional Family Christmas,” which played through Dec. 11 at Theatre Works (the old Masonic Hall building) at 142 Clinton St. in downtown Woonsocket.
Veteran actor Geoff White is hysterically funny as Ant’ny Claus, whose older brother, Santino, gets to do the Santa thing every Christmas Eve. Ant’ny sits at home with his dysfunctional family, which includes his wife Carmella (Bethany Giammarco), mother-in-law Carmella Sr. (Connie Anderson) and teenage son and daughter (Padriag Mahoney and Phoebe Perelman).
The household also includes an elf who has grown too tall to stay at the North Pole and tells corny jokes (John Morris) and a cast-off reindeer (Lynn Nadrowski). Ant’ny sits by his red phone, waiting for the call that his older brother can’t make the rounds. But all he gets are calls from his senile parents, telemarketers and pranksters.
The large cast includes some seasoned actors (Connie Anderson rises to the top of the heap) and some hard-working amateurs. In its early run, a few of O’Donnell’s clever lines are lost and the comic timing wasn’t perfect, but that will come by the time you read this. Saturday night saw the appearance of a “mystery guest,” a small role near the end by Channel 12 weatherman Tony Petrarca that brought down the house, especially when grandma mispronounced his name. Other surprises are in store for future performances.
There are some funny references to “A Christmas Carol” (“This ain’t Trinity, folks”), a few shots at North Providence, a bunch of cute kids and a few risqué but not offensive jokes.
“Ant’ny Claus” has fun with the Italians and how they celebrate Christmas, but does so in a lovingly way. Some of the funniest moments happen during intermission, when O’Donnell conducts a raffle and drawing. He is at his best when he is playing with the audience.