Monday, November 28, 2011

Yule Tales

Some Assembly Required
What’s behind the coincidences of Christmas shows? There are perennial themes such as family and Christmas itself, as exemplified this year by A Christmas Story at Ferndale Rep, and Eugene Stickland’s Some Assembly Required at HSU, which could be considered a slightly askew sequel. (I wonder if audiences anywhere else in North America have the opportunity to see these two shows in this same season.)

Opening Thursday at HSU was the contemporary holiday comedy, Some Assembly Required by Canadian playwright Eugene Stickland. The opening night audience rocked Gist Hall Theatre with laughter, and audience members noted resemblances to their own crazy families at the holidays. The HSU Theatre, Film & Dance production features Evan Needham (familiar from NCRT roles), Romy Clugston (an exchange student from Australia), and HSU students Kyle Handziak, Karianne Nelson and Shea King. Stars were born! The show continues Friday and Saturday this weekend at 7:30, then one more weekend, Thurs-Sat. with a 2 p.m. matinee on December 11. Much more at HSU Stage & Screen.

As for the two shows reviewed here today, the common economic theme is expressed in the title of one of them: A Playhouse Recessionary Christmas, currently at the Arcata Playhouse. That’s pretty clear, but it also suggests to me that the economy might have been a subtle factor in the shows of Christmas past.

 Back in 2007, when the economy was seemingly riding high, fueled mostly by the fantasy of making money by moving money around with no visible means of support, we had our fantasy-laden Lewis Carroll Christmas at Dell’Arte and Ferndale Rep. But in 2009, after it was all exposed as illusion and the Great Recession was underway, we had our Dickensian Christmas at NCRT as well as Dell’Arte and Ferndale, with children in rags ignored by the 19th century 1%.

 As do the first two shows mentioned, A Playhouse Recessionary Christmas portrays a family preparing for the holidays. This time the parents, Esther and Frank Happy (played with sweet hilarity by Lynne and Bob Wells) are taking in adult daughter Violet (Jackie Dandeneau) because her house is in foreclosure. Her wild younger sister Rose (Amy Tetzlaff) is already there, and Violet brings her two children, Lily (Amelia David) and Daisy (Cora Dandeneau.)

 But the script by Tyler Olsen doesn’t dwell on the foreclosure situation directly, though the payoff at the end concerns recessionary gifts. The story goes off in other twisted sitcom directions, including Rose’s green wax obsession and Frank’s campaign to unmask Santa as an alien in league with corporations. It’s all also a pretext for music, including a unique “Twelve Days of Christmas” by Lynne and Bob, songs by Jacky and by the band of Tim Randles, Tim Gray and Marla Joy (“Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” is one) and by different guest artists at each performance. The kids (Amelia and Cora) are delightful troupers already.

 The show is directed by Lydia Foreman (who also designed the costumes), with set by Lush Newton and lighting by David Ferney. There are surprises and silliness for the whole family, for one more weekend at the Arcata Playhouse.

 Meanwhile, the Dell’Arte holiday show is on the road. This year the textual victim is The Nutcracker, as three poor mice turn to crime and learn who their real oppressor is (the dirty rat) in The Nutcaper.

 With the comic ballets to that familiar Tchaikovsky music, this has the gentle charm of shows that kids put on for themselves. Performed with Dell’Arte School skill, it’s probably the most child-oriented of the Dell’Arte holiday shows I’ve seen, though there are of course a few class warfare jokes for grownups.

 Meredith Anne Baldwin, Rachel Brown and Meghan Frank are the lovable mouse trio. Myque Franz is the Nutcracker (who turns out to be another exploited worker) and Pratik Motwani is the suitably sinister Rat King who might remind older kids (really older) of the Blue Meanies. Joan Schirle directs, with choreography by Laura Munoz. Daniel Spencer designed the sets, Lydia Foreman the costumes, Michael Foster the lighting, Tim Gray the sound.

Meanwhile, back at Ferndale Repertory Theatre by popular demand is A Christmas Story. It’s the same story as the movie which has been seen in 24-hour marathons on various Turner cable stations since the 90s, but with Ralphie, the young hero, recalling his Depression era Indiana childhood as an adult. It’s also the same play that Ferndale presented in 2008, and not the musical version that’s been touring with Peter Billingsley, the actor who played Ralphie in the movie, as producer.

The story by radio raconteur Jean Shepherd is gentle nostalgic comedy with icons from the movie that fans worship, like the leg lamp, or the kid whose tongue is frozen to a flagpole. Philip Grecian’s stage adaptation of course preserves them all.

 Ginger Gene directs a cast that includes Nathan Emmons, Kristi Peifer, Brian Morrison, Aiden Vergen, Megan Walsh, Keelan Franklin, Andrew Cutler, Hailey Benbow, Brianna Schatz, Kate Haley, Charlie Beck, and Steve Vergen as young Ralphie. Costumes are by Lori Knowles, lighting by Greta Stockwell, sound by Ian Schatz, and Scenic Charge Artist is Daniel C. Niyiri. The Ferndale Repertory Theatre’s 40th Anniversary holiday production of A Christmas Story runs on weekends including Sunday matinees through Dec. 18.

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