ON THE EXPECTATION OF WHITE CHRISTMASES
is available for production through JAC Publishing & Promotions. Click on the cover for further details.
Bing Crosby's "White Christmas," featured in the Hudson, NY production.
On the Expectation of White Christmases takes place in 1975 suburban New York from Christmas Eve through Christmas Day. It tells the story of Mary, an 11-year old girl who is waiting for her long estranged father to show up for a Christmas dinner reconciliation. Mary lives (quite uncomfortably) in her Irish grandparents’ house with her mother Katherine. Her Nana, the unquestioned authority in her home, is decidedly against the prospect of hosting a dinner for the man who abandoned her daughter and pulls no punches in letting Mary know exactly what she thinks of him. As the family waits for the missing father to appear, an unforgettable Christmas night ensues.
The play begins with Mary waiting impatiently at the window for her father’s return after a seven-year absence. She is excited by the prospect of a new bicycle her father promised her. Her mother Katherine and her Nana set the table and discuss the imminent arrival. Katherine begs Nana for understanding for Jack, which Nana is not willing to extend to the man who walked out on her daughter. Mary tries to defend her father, but is put in her place by Nana.
To Mary’s disappointment, the sound of an arriving car proves to be Grandpa, who arrives with jokes and a smile and dutifully hands his paycheck over to Nana. Theirs is a typical “old Irish” marriage—Nana is the ruler of the roost, while Grandpa earns the money and tries to keep everyone (including himself) on Nana’s good side. Katherine survives by soliciting Nana’s sympathy, but Mary incurs Nana’s wrath by staunchly believing in her father. He has still not shown up by the time Lizzie, Mary’s sister, arrives.
Lizzie is in her late twenties, with two children and a husband she left at home. She is without a jacket and has been drinking, although not apparently so. Lizzie is very much in Nana’s camp, remembering all the important events in her life that were missed by her father. With the prospects of her father showing up growing dim, and under the weight of her sister’s and Nana’s disapproval, Mary retreats to her bedroom, refusing to eat.
Lizzie volunteers to retrieve her, but not before sneaking a drink from her flask. The two talk of their father and why their Nana feels as she does. Mary agrees to return, but still refuses to eat. Grandpa diffuses the situation by enlisting Mary to trim the Christmas tree with him, while Lizzie, quite drunk by now, passes out on the sofa. The evening (and the first act) ends with the family watching Alistair Sims’ Scrooge. Mary’s father hasn’t shown.
The second act begins in the middle of the night, as Mary tries to awaken Lizzie to tell her of a man standing outside the front door. Lizzie recognizes Jack, her father, and wakes Katherine to let him in. He is drunk. Mary rushes into Jack’s arms, finally reunited, but retreats when she smells the drink and runs away from him. Lizzie laces into Jack for disappointing Mary and for the myriad of grudges she still holds toward him, then leaves after wheeling in the bicycle she bought for Mary. The noise awakens Nana, who sees Jack’s state and cannot help voicing her contempt. Jack and Nana argue over old wounds, prompting Katherine to order Nana back to bed before the situation escalates further.
Alone with Jack, Katherine makes breakfast in an effort to sober Jack up. She asks where he has been for all this time, and Jack haltingly begins to tell her. He tells of his recent sobriety, and how it prompted him to reconnect with Mary. Then he tells of a chance encounter with another veteran that stirred up memories of his war experiences. Jack was an artillery gunner in the Navy who froze after days of nonstop attack by Japanese Kamikaze fighters. He never recovered from the shame of being shipped back to the States with shellshock, unable to speak. The memory drove him to fall off the wagon.
Nana reappears with Grandpa, surprised that Katherine hasn’t sent Jack on his way. Jack asks permission to stay and visit with his daughter, which Nana flatly refuses. Mary then appears, and lets Jack know that although she still loves him she will never see him if he comes to her in this condition again. Jack agrees and with Nana’s reluctant approval he is led to Katherine’s bedroom to sleep off his drunk. The play ends with Nana making breakfast for Mary.
With equal parts humor and pathos, On the Expectation of White Christmases explores the trials of familial love, hope and redemption.
Mary (11): earnest, headstrong, stubbornly loyal, naive
Nana (50+): cantankerous matriarch of the family, biting, sarcastic, demanding of respect, Irish brogue preferable
Grandpa (50+): Nana’s opposite—warm, open, deferential to his wife, protective of his granddaughter, Irish brogue preferable
Katherine (late 30s-40s): caring mother to Mary, but weak and less than courageous—defers to Nana out of self-preservation /Narrator(late 30s-40s): Mary as an adult, wizened, but retaining her innocence (role can be doubled)
Lizzie (mid 20s): hurt, angry, skeptical before her time due to her abandonment by her father, mother of two with a marriage that is threatened by her drinking
Narrator (late 30s-40s): Mary as an adult, wizened, but retaining her innocence (role can be combined with Katherine)
Jack (late 40s): World War II veteran who has not been able to keep his life together, guilt-ridden, scarred, has a drinking problem
"This magnificent work deserves a great success on the national scene. It is the first play to focus on the life of the Irish in New York, their sad dysfunction and piercing humanity. . .a riveting theatrical experience." John Paul Keeler, Catskill Hudson Newspapers
"The characters in the play are real flesh and blood people crafted by Petti with supreme writing skill." John Paul Keeler, Catskill Hudson Newspapers