PORT TOWNSEND — In the hospital for the holidays: Not so funny, you’d think. But playwright Jeni Mahoney, with a team of smart-alecky actors, looks for a comic cure in “Mercy Falls,” the play arriving for its world premiere this weekend at Key City Public Theatre.
First off, Mahoney sends up everything in sight: Santa Claus, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, nurses, doctors, nuns and inspirational authors. All swirl around Marcy (Consuelo Aduviso Brennan), our heroine who ventures, tremulous, into a hospital room on Christmas Eve.
“Mercy Falls,” named for a fictional Ohio town, is just the first of two holiday shows playing through December at the Key City Playhouse, downtown at 419 Washington St.
Starting with tonight’s opening, evening curtain times are at 7 with Sunday matinees at 1 p.m.; pay-what-you-wish performances are this Sunday and next Thursday, Dec. 5. Theater-goers are encouraged to come half an hour before curtain time to claim their seats.
Come mid-December, “Mercy Falls” will play in repertory with the updated “Spirit of the Yule,” Key City’s original musical about real-life Port Townsend entrepreneur Henrietta Maynard.
Tickets to either show are $24 to $29 and details await at keycitypublictheatre.org and 360-385-5278.
The thing about Marcy is that she’s always been a jinx. Shocking — and let’s face it, humorous — accidents keep happening around her. Yet on her therapist’s advice, she faces her fear of hospitals and goes to visit Wanda Moore (Michelle Hensel), her favorite self-help writer.
Wanda, sitting up in her bed, smokes a cigarette shortly before Marcy walks in. It’s out just in time for her new friend to herald all kinds of crazy. Following Marcy’s appearance are a patient advocate dressed as an elf, a doctor disguised as Santa Claus and an uber-efficient nurse on her way to the hospital Christmas party. Among others.
But there’s more to this than silliness, said Hensel, who portrays Wanda as an opportunist with a streak of kindness.
When she first read “Mercy Falls,” she thought it was funny, that’s all.
“Then I dug deeper, and I found that all of these characters have arcs,” Hensel said; turns out Wanda, while she has a huge ego, has a few things to learn from Marcy.
“You see the relationships build and change — and deconstruct and build again,” Brennan added. The 75-minute show travels at a near-breakneck pace; it’s sweet, she said, but “we don’t linger on the sweetness.”
Marcy “has a naivety,” Brennan said.
“She still has the ability to be surprised by things,” and to be delighted by the surprises.
Which sits at the heart of this Christmas story. Mahoney, an Indie Theater Hall of Fame member who lives in Merrimack, N.H., came to Port Townsend as playwright-in-residence in last year’s PlayFest. During her time here, she workshopped “Mercy” with Key City actors.
Mahoney returned earlier this month to watch rehearsals. Along with Brennan and Hensel, who are costarring in their fifth Key City show together, the cast includes Maggie Jo Bulkley as Santa Claus’ mom and Tomoki Sage and Jennifer True playing a variety of medical and mythical roles.
Key City artistic director Denise Winter is directing — and, Mahoney said, giving the show the cockeyed bent she’s after.
“We’re laughing a lot. These guys are so funny,” the playwright said amidst rehearsals. And while the story is “so not schmaltzy, it is full of schtick. I think it’s a lot of fun, and I’m not somebody who would say that,” she added.
Mahoney is author of dramas and dark comedies including “Kandahar,” “Light” and “Come Rain or Come Shine.”
“If you’re the kind of person who does not like Christmas plays, this is a good play,” she said.
“If you’re a person who does, it’s still a good play,” with large helpings of irreverence and the possibility of a late-December miracle.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.