Just another screwball holiday with the family Season's Greetings Comedy by Alan Ayckbourn. Directed by Pat Brown.

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Thanks to Alan Ayckbourn and the Alley Theatre of Houston, it's Christmas in July on Eighth Avenue. ``Season's Greetings,'' by Mr. Ayckbourn, is the second of three plays in a festival at the innovative American Theater Exchange at the Joyce Theater. The Alley producion of a comedy that ranges from farce to pathos enriches the New York theatrical scene and adds kudos to the festival, stretching from May through August. The festivities imagined by Mr. Ayckbourn last only from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day, the day-after-Christmas holiday celebrated throughout the British Isles. Given the Ayckbourn powers of observation and comic invention, the time span offers ample scope for the kinds of rituals, ruckuses, and disasters of which family comedies are made. Among other things, Mr. Ayckbourn's targets of opportunity include meals that live down to expectations, husbands who don't listen to their wives, toys that don't work, and a male guest who creates havoc among the womenfolk.

Mr. Ayckbourn also satirizes TV and movie violence and the relish with which it is accepted by the viewing audience. Oblivious to much of what is going on in the household about him, retired security officer Harvey Bunker (Robert Cornthwaite) spends much of his time glued to the TV, reveling in the horrors and disasters of a favorite Christmas entertainment. The preoccupation with violence is one of several ploys that pay off in Act II -- in this case giving ``Season's Greetings'' a black comedy twist.

As usual, Mr. Ayckbourn's stock in trade is human idiosyncrasy, the odd and unaccountable vagaries that friends and relatives take for granted or at least attempt to cope with. Husband Neville's (Richard Poe) inventions are described by his patient wife, Belinda (Robin Moseley), as ``five-day wonders.'' Wife Pattie (Cynthia Lammel) remarks that nothing husband Eddie (Charles Sanders) buys ``ever works.''

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``A man's got to have a hobby, hasn't he?'' Eddie asks at one point. To which Belinda, with feminine logic, replies: ``Why?''

And then there is Bernard's (Dale Helward) marionette show, put on determinedly for family and visiting children. (The small fry, incidentally, are never seen on stage.) Bernard's rehearsal for ``The Three Little Pigs'' is the hilarious highlight of ``Season's Greetings.'' His subsequent crestfallen admission of failure provides one of those poignant moments that lie beneath the surface of Ayckbourn comedy.

Under artistic director Pat Brown's staging, the Alley Theatre ensemble responds admirably to the comic complexities of ``Season's Greetings.'' Besides those mentioned, the cast includes Michael Alan Gregory as the romantic novelist whose one book is No. 17 on the best-seller list; Lawr Means as his spinster girlfriend who describes herself as ``a 34-year-old woman acting like a teen-ager''; and Lillian Evans as Bernard's frequently tipsy wife. Michael Holt's cheerful setting serves the purposes of the comedy, even though it hasn't adapted easily to the Joyce stage. The pop-traditional music interludes help season the greetings and add their own comic counterpoint.

``Season's Greetings'' runs through July 27. The final production of the current theater exchange will be ``In the Belly of the Beast,'' presented by the Mark Taper Forum of Los Angeles (Aug.8-30). 30{et

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