It's unusual that we get a chance during the holidays to see a world premiere of a new play, but it's happening at Northern Kentucky University's Corbett Theatre, where New Edgecliff Theatre and Actor & Playwrights Collaborative are producing Phil Paradis's new script, Soldier's Christmas, through Sunday. The show commemorates the centennial of the memorable "Christmas Truce" in which British and German troops stopped fighting along the Western Front during World War I and came together to celebrate the holiday. I had the opportunity to see its opening performance last week, and I can assure you that it's worth your time. A strong cast of men play nine solders, especially focused on one Brit, Corporal Tug Wilson (Aaron Epstein) and one German, Sgt. Gerhardt Dietrich (Jeffrey K. Miller). They meet tentatively after a furious episode of hand-to-hand combat, seeking warmth. They recognize their common ground and slowly convince their fellow soldiers of the common humanity that they share, leading to a momentary celebratory event in which they sing carols in their own language and discover how much alike they are. These scenes are counterpointed by five actresses playing women — wives, mothers, sisters, lovers — of the soldiers, telling their stories in monologues and chorus-like passages. Paradis's script covers the emotional spectrum, from humor to pathos, from anguish to joy. Cincinnati theatrical veteran Robert Allen directed the piece, and he keeps it from become maudlin or unbelievable. In fact, the tale is deeply moving — not to mention profoundly sad when the men are all but forced to return to their trenches and the senseless warfare that they've momentarily escaped. Nevertheless, a thread of hope runs through Soldier's Christmas, an emotion that makes this seem fitting for the season. Tickets ($18-$22) are available for performances on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and a Sunday matinee at 3 p.m.
For something completely different, look for the hilarious production of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. This is the ninth consecutive year for Cincy Shakes to present this mash-up of holiday tales told by three inventive comic actors and one very drunk Santa Claus. I've seen the production, featuring Sara Clark, Billy Chace, Justin McComb and Miranda McGee (she's Santa with a can of Foster's and her native Australian accent) for several years running. Even when I know what's coming, I find myself laughing out loud. That's because the cast and director Jeremy Dubin refresh the material every year with topical references and new bits, so it you have to keep up with their quick wit and frequent ad libs. McComb is the goofy but mischievous innocent; Chace is a pompous hipster; and Clark is the Dickens devotee who tries to coax her colleagues to pull together for the greatest "BHC" (Beloved Holiday Classic) of them all, A Christmas Carol. They steadfastly refuse, spewing forth with machine-gun rapidity one sharp parody or silly take on these familiar stories . The second act (the entire performance is about 90 minutes with an intermission) seems to be headed into Scrooge territory, but it keeps veering off into It's a Wonderful Life — in the most delightful and daffy way. After awhile you begin to wonder whether these shows are all somehow connected. And in fact they are: with an exclamation point provided at the end with a rendition of "Every Christmas Carol Ever Sung," an amazing compilation of musical numbers spliced together. Tickets ($28) for this production are virtually sold out, but it's worth a call to see if you can get in, especially for tonight's special 11 p.m. performance. In case you're wondering, Cincy Shakes does have a liquor license so you can join in the good fun with a drink of you own. Box office: 513-381-2273.
Most every local stage in Cincinnati is presenting a holiday show this weekend, so check CityBeat's listings for more choices. It's a great weekend to go out and have fun at the theater.
Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.