A handsome young widower, a pretty new schoolteacher in town, a matchmaking neighbor, and a just-deceased older brother who’s been given one last chance to make amends in the few remaining days between now and Christmas add up to a crowd-pleasing holiday romcom as Little Fish Theater treats South Bay audiences to Norm Foster’s Ethan Claymore.

12279181_10153168066346373_3543266381459622738_n If our 30ish hero Ethan (Mitchell McCollum) had his way, five years of mourning might well lead to another half-decade of romantic hibernation were it not for the late-night visit of Douglas McLaren (Rodney Rincon), there to proclaim the end of a widower’s bereavement with an announcement.

The local egg farmer has till the following morning to get himself spiffed up to meet freshly-arrived schoolteacher Teresa Pike (Tara Donovan), who’s been informed by Douglas that local customs require her to visit each of her students’ parents. (Yes, Douglas has sinned by omitting that there are no pint-sized Claymores running around Ethan’s farm, but hey, Ethan and Teresa will thank him for that one day, right?)

Further complicating Ethan’s night is a letter announcing the heart-attack death of his older brother Martin, though the younger Claymore’s almost apathetic reaction to the news suggests that the siblings’ relationship may not have been devoted brotherly love.

12241620_10153168632386373_8905373889044272499_n Given the likely veracity of said letter, Ethan can be excused for being shocked when Martin (Bill Wolski) shows up at his doorstep apparently still alive and kicking, though Douglas’s cluelessness to Martin’s presence soon makes it clear that, like Cosmo of Topper fame and Blithe Spirit’s Charles Condomine before him, Ethan Claymore is being visited by a ghost on a mission, though precisely what the older Claymore brother’s assignment is, well, that’s what second acts are for.

(Did I mention that Ethan is in imminent danger of losing his egg farm if he can’t come up with $5000 pronto?)

12243452_10153165493546373_1829502718119174018_n There’s nothing in Norm Foster’s Ethan Claymore that romcom fans (or lovers of holiday heartwarmers) won’t have seen before—the crotchety widower, the quirky working girl, the angel/ghost sent back to earth to right old wrongs, the nosy but well-meaning neighbor, and more. But familiarity need not breed contempt, and one of Ethan Claymore’s many pleasures is the joy of recognition.

“Ghost comedy” aficionados will be as delighted here as they’ve been countless times before at comic exchanges provoked by the fact that only our hero can see or hear said ghost.

And like It’s A Beautiful Life has proven time and time again, there’s no better get-out-the-Kleenex holiday miracle than seeing past wrongs righted, in this case those of a bullying older brother sent back to patch things up with a long-estranged sibling.

2Q6A0289 Little Fish favorite Holly Baker-Krieswirth directs with a deft hand and an eye on keeping performances real even in Ethan Claymore’s more sitcommy moments.

A stellar McCollum couldn’t be more winning in a role that has him onstage in each and every scene, whether interacting with barely suppressed interest in the new girl in town or dealing with an interfering but well-intentioned friend or reacting to an invisible brother with whom he shares a prickly history, some of which we get to see in flashbacks that allow McCollum to play Ethan’s vulnerable childhood self.

12227213_10153165493576373_7527848912052956705_n Leading lady Donovan is the next-best-thing to a young Sandra Bullock in the kind of role that made Sandy a star, instantly likeable and charmingly idiosyncratic.

Following his achingly real, Scenie-winning performance in last year’s Bus Stop, Rincon gets to play it purely for laughs this time round, and does so with a sly, masterful touch.

As for Wolski, himself a Scenie winner for his multi-faceted star turn in Tryst, the Little Fish staple does his accustomed dynamic work (and shows off expert comedic timing) as car salesman Martin. (The job says it all.)

12247068_10153157399276373_2911699312923870700_n Scenic designer Aaron Francis’s homey kitchen set (with topnotch properties by Ashley Smith) is one of the best I’ve seen at Little Fish, and has been expertly lit by Christopher Singleton, whose lighting design makes it crystal clear whether we’re in present tense or flashback mode. Diana Mann’s costumes fit each character to a T and Baker-Krieswirth’s sound design is a just-right mix of carefully selected tunes and effects.

Ethan Claymore is produced by Donovan. Caroline Benzon is stage manager.

Though not the most original comedy Norm Foster (Canada’s most produced playwright) has written, Ethan Claymore arrives just in time for the holiday season as a crowd-pleasing alternative to the many A Christmas Carols running around town and one likely to fill your heart with holly-jolly cheer.

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Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St. San Pedro.

–Steven Stanley
November 27, 2015
Photos: Mickey Elliot

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