Holiday Hoopla

Gaslight And Borderlands Offer Light-Hearted Fun For Kids Of All Ages.

By Dave Irwin

THE HOLIDAYS GIVE us a chance to sample simple theatre guilt free, like so many chocolate kisses. Two current productions, the Gaslight Theatre's Give My Regards to Santa, or The Snow Must Go On, and Borderlands' A Tucson Pastorela, show how much fun the unsophisticated stage can be.

Gaslight Theatre has a long-standing and well-deserved reputation for being entertaining, but it's unlikely its productions will ever be tagged intellectual. More vaudeville than theater, the emphasis is on having a good time, enjoying some laughs, eating popcorn and doing anything but think. Following that formula, Give My Regards to Santa won't win any drama awards, but that really doesn't matter to the rollicking full houses the production is pulling in for two to three shows a day. Co-written (with Bobby Joyce Smith) and directed by Carol Calkins, Give My Regards has a paper-thin plot involving post-Prohibition bootlegger Broadway Tony sending his sidekick, Izzy, to pull off a holiday bank heist wearing a Santa Claus outfit in a city full of Santas.

Review This, not unexpectedly, leaves the real, true Santa, who has been making grandiose predictions to our cast, languishing in jail on Christmas Eve. Subplots involve Tony's untalented girlfriend/actress; an aspiring writer and his talented girlfriend; a street orphan and a rich widow's helpful daughter; and Walter Winchell's Depression-era status as arbiter of truth.

The show stars Gaslight stalwarts Armen Dirtadian, Joe Cooper, Glenda Young, Dan Gunther, Peter Van Slyke, John Brownlee and 14 other ensemble players for the play's 11 roles and grueling daily schedule. Not that it matters who plays what, since the general skills are high enough that the performers are pretty much interchangeable.

The production is shameless in its pandering to the audience, and that's not a bad thing here. The cartoonish characters say and do exactly what we expect. Like a stand-up comedy routine, these pros' fluffed lines are a gateway to additional mugging. They deliver reliable performances with lots of song, dance and laughter. Give My Regards to Santa is assembly-line entertainment: dependable, filling, and a solid value.

Borderlands' A Tucson Pastorela is equally entertaining, but rounds out the other end of the spectrum. In contrast to the crusty professionalism of the Gaslight, A Tucson Pastorela succeeds largely because of its naive amateurism. The pastorela, which dates from the 1500s, is a folk-art form, performed in verse, on the struggle between good and evil. Directed by Borderlands' Barclay Goldsmith, this third incarnation (updated annually) aspires to become a Tucson tradition...which it richly deserves.

From the moment young actresses Samantha Brown and Clarissa Yazzie hit the stage as a puppy and sheep trying to escape "The Barney Song," the enthusiasm and pageantry of the 27-member cast are more important than acting skill or elaborate production values. The plot follows a group of peasants heading to Bethlehem, their way challenged by devils and defended by angels. Their temptations and obstacles include weariness, riches, discrimination, and finally, taking the easy way out, leading to their abandonment in the desert (by devils in the guise of beguiling coyotes).

This broad scenario allows playwright Max Branscomb to work in topical references to J. Fife Symington, Elton John, the movies Titanic and Zorro, and a number of strolling carols sung in Spanish. Particularly noteworthy are Albert Soto, who brings a marvelous strut and glee to his role as the lead demon, Lucifer; his underling Christina Walker as Satan, and Hector Ayala as the prophet Señor Soledad. The crystalline singing of Marissa Garcia as Estrella/Star of Bethlehem is also outstanding.

Both Give My Regards to Santa and A Tucson Pastorela owe a significant portion of their entertainment value to the post-production activities: Following Give My Regards, the cast comes back out for an "olio," additional singing and dancing on a holiday theme to round out the full two hours. After the Pastorela, children are invited on-stage and arranged by size for three whacks at a dangling piñata, at considerable risk to the actors trying to direct them. Anyone whose heart isn't warmed by watching this awkward and hilarious enterprise deserves coal in his stocking.

For parents looking for a treat for their own small children, the Pastorela is perfect, especially if you want them to have a taste of the Southwest's cultural diversity along with their piñata candy. For adults looking for a good time with their own parents, the Gaslight Theatre is similarly ideal.

Give My Regards to Santa, or The Snow Must Go On continues daily through January 2 at Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway. (Closed Christmas and New Year's Day.) Show times vary and reservations are strongly recommended. Tickets are $13.95 for adults; $11.95 for students, senior citizens and military personnel; and $6 for children under 12. For information and reservations, call 886-9428.

A Tucson Pastorela, by Borderlands Theater, continues through Sunday, December 20, at the PCC Black Box Theatre, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Show times are 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $4 for children under 12 for all shows. Tickets range from $7 to $12, with $7 student rush tickets available 15 minutes prior to curtain for each performance. For reservations and information, call 882-7406. TW

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