The holidays are a time when we often come together with family — the ones we are born with and the ones we choose. And while “traditional” holiday family fare includes sleigh bells, Scrooge, and sugarplum fairies, several theater companies are mounting plays untethered to the season that still remind us of the wonder of loving and being loved.
Tír Na Theatre is reviving its 2012 hit, “Trad,” Mark Doherty’s spare, Irish family drama that overflows with dark humor (Nov. 30-Dec. 18, Boston Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre, $35, bostontheatrescene.com).
The plot, such as it is, follows the bickering and nitpicking between 100-year-old Thomas and his even older Da. When Thomas reveals that he fathered a son in a long-ago fling, the two ancients set out to find the “young” man of 70 “with nothing more than a hobble and limp to help them on their journey.”
“It’s a bit like Beckett in the absurdity,” says Colin Hamell, who directs and stars in the production. “It’s about a man obsessed with identity and tradition and wanting to carry on the family name. At the same time it’s a hilarious road trip with two unlikely characters who say the most ridiculous things to each other.”
Hamell says his friend Derry Woodhouse was eager to perform, and they turned to their mutual friend Stephen Russell to play a priest the two men meet.
“It pokes humor in a lot of dark places,” says Hamell, “but takes a poignant turn toward the end. It’s hilarious but gets to you.”
“Wild Swimming,” at Chelsea’s Apollinaire Theatre Company, is an exuberant adventure in slapstick, improvisation, and audience participation, that also balances humor with loss (through Dec. 18, Chelsea Theatre Works, $15-$30, apollinairetheatre.com). In Marek Horn’s play, two friends return to a favorite beach to tease, tempt, and verbally spar with each other during shifting time periods across five centuries. Any time the conversation leans toward a lecture, the actors pass out water pistols, bits of poetry, and snacks, request help with costume changes, and improvise comments and wild dance moves to transition from one era to the next.
Katie Ryan and Jules Talbot lead a joyful party that engages the audience in those antics while exploring the changing roles of men and women. This is not your traditional play, and you may not even ponder all the swimming metaphors until long after you leave the theater.
At Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Ilyse Robbins returns to direct more traditional family fare. In “Little Women: The Broadway Musical” (Nov. 25-Dec. 23, $59-$64, greaterbostonstage.org), Louisa May Alcott’s four March sisters grow up in Concord in the midst of the Civil War, experiencing love, loss, and heartbreak. While the story may be familiar to anyone who’s read the book or seen its film adaptations, Robbins says the musical offers an opportunity to experience it through Mindi Dickstein’s lyrics and Jason Howland’s music (the book is by Allan Knee).
Robbins says “Little Women” has always been one of her favorite stories. “When I reread it, I feel like I’m coming home. I want audiences to feel like they are coming home when they come to the theater.”
When Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy” debuted in 1981, his story of Arnold, a bisexual drag queen who just wants to settle down and have a family, was seen as a daring departure from traditional kitchen sink dramas. But when the trilogy was reimagined as “Torch Song” and revived in 2017, the play became more of an ensemble piece, says Peter Mill, who plays Arnold in Moonbox Productions’ upcoming show (Dec. 2-23, Roberts Studio Theatre at the Calderwood Pavilion, $55-$65, bostontheatrescene.com).
“It’s really about how messy and complicated love is,” Mill says, “and how everyone just wants to be loved and understood.”
One of the key relationships in the show is between Arnold and his mother, played at Moonbox by Bobbie Steinbach.
“I think it would be easy to stereotype this as the demanding mother, but Bobbie brings so much humanity and a humongous amount of love to the character,” says Mill. “And you know, it’s easiest to hurt the ones you love.”
The play’s real strength, says director Allison Olivia Choat, is that it puts a human face on these complicated characters. “Not many plays explore the gray areas of people who live in between sharply defined identities,” she says. “But at the end of the day, we all struggle to speak up for ourselves, tell the people we love that we love them, accept some things that we can’t change.”
“Torch Song,” she says, is fundamentally uplifting.
“It offers a realistic message of hope,” she says. “If we just keep trying, make some sacrifices, have those difficult conversations, and lead with love, we can make a difference.”
Terry Byrne can be reached at email@example.com.