This production was scheduled November 17-December 3, 2023.

Imagine the words “holiday” and “rainbow” both appearing in the title of a play. Now imagine that the holiday is Thanksgiving, and that one of the main topics of stage conversation is the sexual orientation of two of the guests at the day’s feast. Then throw in some traditional family dynamics, more than a little wine (and lots of pie and canned cranberry sauce), as well as an unrelenting rainstorm.

The result is A Rainbow Holiday, now celebrating its California premiere on the small stage in Morro Bay that is ground zero to the small but mighty By the Sea Productions theatrical troupe.

The two-hour-including-intermission comedy is topical and unrelenting in its message that we all should just live and let live—yes, this exploration of an extended and no-more-dysfunctional-than-most family is funny even when making some serious points.

That message is conveyed most cogently by Jerry, the father figure here (thoughtfully and warmly played by BTSP veteran Russell Snow), who finally in the second act puts his foot down among family bickering to remind everyone that Thanksgiving is all about family and love, and that “everyone is welcome here.” He and his significant other Maggie (played by Rosemarie Lagunas with an obvious love for her character, who copes by slowly but surely ingesting the afore-mentioned wine to comic effect while proclaiming that “family is forever”) must face rising tensions among their grown children who appear on their doorstep and their partners for the holiday.

With all the societal attention to Christmas and gift-giving, it’s refreshing to be reminded that holidays are (or should be) about more than just presents and tinsel. That isn’t to say that certain conventions can’t be honored—the show opens with a rendition of the “It’s a wonderful day for pie” song made popular by the TV show Family Guy, and pie plays a recurring item of interest for most of the characters here. And that’s quite satisfying for everyone, including the audience.

Also quite satisfying is the work of some talented young actors who need to be seen more on this stage, including the dynamic Jeremy Engel (as Maggie’s son), the delightful Ryanne Howard (as Jerry’s daughter), and the cheeky Molly Pendley (who is credited as “Adam Kent” in the program but who ends up being called several different names in the show, including “Adam squared” and “neighbor”—you’ll just have to see the show to understand).

Some comedic snapshots from the production’s Thanksgiving feast: Elizabeth Renee Bolyard’s character deftly extracting a bottle of wine from her mother’s grasping fingers; Timothy Linzey’s character providing a rather prolonged grace before the meal; Randal Sumabat’s character checking his ever-present cell phone. They all prove equally game to explore the themes the playwrights—Lori Sigrist and Joe Simonelli—espouse.

Making his solo directing debut, Samvel Gottlieb has demonstrated that he can inspire his cast to deliver the goods that a full-on production must provide: a journey that leaves us wiser, inspired, and/or willing to explore a different perspective. He is adept at letting his actors take the time they need to deliver some uncomfortable truths—to other characters and to the audience. Blocking eight actors together on such a small stage is no mean feat, either, and the show benefits from his understanding of what the playwrights were trying to achieve.

The play itself could be tightened up a bit in the second act, as Jerry’s lessons about the desirability of diversity and tolerance are laid on a bit thick. However, seeing Jerry wielding a rolling pin in response to his daughter’s husband’s indiscretions is worth the price of a ticket.

And as all thunderstorms eventually clear, this tempest adds a literal rainbow to its conclusion. A very satisfactory ending, indeed.

:: Charlotte Alexander