The Jokes of Christmas Past

Live Theatre Workshop presents nearly all of the Christmas stories this season, but with not enough laughs

Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) makes fun of the holiday classics that are trotted out every year for our Yuletide pleasure from Frosty the Snowman to It's a Wonderful Life.

But roasting the entertainment chestnuts is, at this point, the furthest thing from fresh. In fact, in a landscape dominated by the likes of Santaland Diaries, A Tuna Christmas, The Elf and, my favorite, Bad Santa, irreverent Christmas parodies have become almost as clichéd as by-the-book community-theater renditions of A Christmas Carol.

It's like putting a man in a tutu and having him dance "The Nutcracker." You'll get some chuckles, but not a single point for originality. A Christmas Carol ain't the only thing that's been done to death.

So you might be wondering if Live Theatre Workshop hits consistent comedic pay dirt with its latest offering? Well, let me put it this way: When the three actors get around to spoofing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, they call it Gustav the Green-Nosed Reingoat. When one of them keeps ignoring supposed copyright concerns by saying reindeer, the others yell out "reingoat!"

Does that sound funny to you? If so, well, there's a lot more where that came from.

Others might find the slapdash goings-on in Every Christmas Story Ever Told a tad worn out. Despite a Donald Trump insert that falls flat, the show's pop culture jokes are, more often than not, anemic and dated. References to "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," the Macarena and Norelco television commercials were perhaps more humorous when the play premiered more than 10 years ago at Orlando Shakespeare Company.

Speaking of the Bard, the writers (Michael Carleton, James FitzGerald and John K. Alvarez) seem to have been inspired by The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), in which three actors race through the gist of all 37 plays.

But it wouldn't be fair to compare this would-be holiday romp with that clever, casually brilliant concoction. The creators of ECSET should have taken a different clue from William Shakespeare, who wisely steered clear of the holiday. In fact, in all of his plays, the word "Christmas" is employed precisely three times (twice in Love's Labour's Lost).

Did I digress? Sorry.

The play, directed by Missie Scheffman, begins with Samantha Cormier's efforts to present A Christmas Carol. Before she gets too deep into the Victorian tale by Charles Dickens, the other two actors stop her and say, basically, they can't even. They've had it up to here with Ebenezer Scrooge, those stupid ghosts and that super-annoying kid on crutches.

And so Cyndi LaFrese and Albert Riesgo talk her into presenting something entirely different. The remainder of the play is mock improvised by Sam, Cyndi and Albert. Before intermission, we get a taste of the aforementioned Rudolph (excuse me, Gustav) and the Grinch and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

At one point, somebody starts into "Bob Dylan's A Child's Christmas with Whales" before somebody else says, no dummy, it's Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales. Ha-freakin'-ha.

On opening night, the LTW production felt both rushed and too slow—a sure sign the at the hard-working cast was not yet firing on all cylinders. I say yet because I'll bet this amiable puppy gets zippier and funnier as the run proceeds.

As the title promises, you'll get a bunch of BHCs (beloved holiday classics) crammed into two hours that feel very much like two hours. It doesn't help that the cast promises to be done in 90 minutes.

After intermission, Sam finally gets to do Dickens, but her enthusiastic orating is interrupted by characters from It's a Wonderful Life. It's a juxtaposition that pretty much works, thanks to a mean Jimmy Stewart impression and thematic similarities between the two tales. They are both about the past, present and future.

The play ends with two minutes of caroling that tries to pack every holiday jingle into a humorous mash up. In a more accomplished production, this would send the audience home on a high note. But after staring at the set, an explosion of Christmas paraphernalia that hurts the eyes (it looks like a Hallmark store vomited on Pat Boone), why should our ears escape injury?

I know, I know. It's not supposed to be good. It's supposed to be amateurish. It's supposed to feel like it was thrown together at the last minute. The uneven performances definitely suit the script, which, despite its title, does not try to wring every Christmas story for laughs.

Conspicuously missing from the parody party is the crazy story abou a virgin who gives birth to the son of God in a manger. But I guess that one's been done to death, too.

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