MIDDLETOWN: A WILDER WAY TO HOLIDAY

mp_long_christmas_dinner_121016_aLeft to right: Kelly Cibrian, Lori Renick, Kevin Huelbig and Carolyn Robertshaw appear with Grace Modla (below) and Brandon Guerriero (not pictured) in ‘A Long Christmas Dinner,’ the Monmouth Players production going up this Saturday at the Navesink Arts Center. (Photo by Grace Modla)

grace-modlaWhen the Monmouth Players sounded the 2016-’17 season’s keynote back in August with “An Evening with Thornton Wilder,” they did so not in the auditorium of their Navesink Arts Center homestage, but in the more intimate setting of the historic building’s beautifully refurbished reading room/ lobby — a space that formerly served as part of Middletown Township library system.

Beginning Saturday and continuing through December 18, the elegant book-lined room makes for a made-to-order setting, as the Players take another walk on the Wilder side with the 1931 ensemble piece “A Long Christmas Dinner.”

reading roomThe elegant reading room of the former Navesink Library does duty as the Bayard family home, when the Monmouth Players serve up Thornton Wilder’s ‘Long Christmas Christmas Dinner.’ (Photo by Robert Kern)

The Pulitzer Prize winner who gave us the avant-garde Americana of “Our Town” and “The Skin of Our Teeth,” as well as the novel “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” also had a way with a short one-act playlet. This one, a comedy-drama known also as “THE Long Christmas Dinner,” unfolds in accelerated vignettes over the course of some 90 years — hence the title — as various generations of Bayards banter, bicker, bond and betray confidences as they deal with the development of countryside, the changes in customs and manners as well as growth of the Bayard family.

“Their accumulation of property sums up a wide aspect of American life,” Players artistic director Lori Renick says of the work, which is said to have inspired Orson Welles’ famously time-tripping “breakfast table” montage in Citizen Kane. “It is a serious play that is lightened with humor and tender moments.”

Renick directs and appears in the cast alongside such card-carrying “Players Club” members as Kelly Cibrian, Brandon Guerriero, Kevin Huelbig, Grace Modla and Carolyn Robertshaw.

Because the script is not considered a full-length work, the troupe has added an extra stocking stuffer for the occasion: a selection of Christmas tales and stories that include original works by Robert Goodman and Geoff Shields, a member in good standing of the Billy Van Zandt-Jane Milmore stock company of comedy specialists.

Performances of “A Long Christmas Dinner” are December 10 and 17 at 8:15 p.m., and December 11 and 18 at 2:00 p.m. — and becuse appetites will no doubt be whetted by all that dinner talk, the Players’ signature spread of homemade desserts will be available before the show and at intermission.

Reserve tickets ($15) by calling (732)291-9211 — then take it to the troupe’s new website for full schedule details on the season that resumes in 2017 with A.R. Gurney’s “The Dining Room.”