Web Onstage: Holiday Send-Up

Cincinnati Shakespeare shows off its comic side at Arnold's

Dec 6, 2006 at 2:06 pm
CityBeat Archive

Justin McCombs, Miranda McGee and Sara Clark in Every Christmas Story Ever Told, a riff on Rudolph.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (CSC) is offering an amusing send-up of holiday shows, Every Christmas Story Ever Told, on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings through Dec. 19. If you've laughed yourself silly watching any of the scripts developed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company — most notably The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged) — you'll find yourself in similar territory in the courtyard at Arnold's Bar & Grille downtown (210 E. Eighth St.). Every Christmas Story is actually not a creation of the Reduced Shakespeare nutcases, but Michael Carleton, Jim Fitzgerald and John Alvarez clearly went to the same school of lunacy and comedy.

That lineage is both promising and predictable. Every Christmas Story, just like the Compleat Works, starts off with pseudo-pomposity: An actor (Sara Clark) reading from Dickens' A Christmas Carol is interrupted by another (Justin McCombs) who is sick of Scrooge. Joined by another (Miranda McGee) who repeats the shtick that they're just accumulating Equity points to join the actors union, they convince the Dickens' proponent that it's time to survey all the other stories that have come our way via movies, television, cartoons, music and so on.

With that, we're off to the races in a script that takes aim at dozens of "BHCs" (Beloved Holiday Classics) — from the Grinch to Rudolph and a very randy Frosty the Snowman. A lot of this sails by so quickly you wish you could rewind and watch again. What's more, the three performers (with some aiding and abetting by Alicia Rodis as a drunken Santa who emcees and encourages occasional "Applause" from the audience with a sign) are encouraged to embroider on the material as they see fit. As Clark opened the show, a cell phone rang in someone's pocket: She paused, stared with a raised eyebrow, waited and then moved on.

Clark, McCombs and McGee each have sketchy basic characters, another resemblance to Compleat Works. Clark is the level-headed one who tries to keep things on track; McCombs is the loopy naíve character who believes every silly story and myth; and McGee is a raucous Australian (she actually is Australian) with an over-the-top sense of herself and her "stage magic." Their chemistry together is often hilarious, and when they occasionally drag an audience member into the action, it gets even funnier.

My only real complaint is that the tomfoolery goes on a tad too long. When they reach the intermission after 90 minutes of zany satires, it feels like the piece could end. However, there's a 10-minute intermission, followed by another 30 of an inspired send-up of Christmas Carol which is thoroughly entangled with the characters of It's A Wonderful Life. It's funny material (much like the Hamlet satire that concludes Compleat Works), but it runs the risk of swamping the evening's comedy. I think Every Story would be better with a half-hour less material before the intermission (for instance, the "Fruit, Nut and Dating Game," which is full of labored jokes about fruitcakes could disappear without diminishing the high spirits).

What makes this especially fun is to watch these actors in a looser, comic form. All of them are members of CSC's "young company" (in other words, they're interns) who routinely have smallish roles without much latitude to show their chops. Here they're in a wholly different category of performance that requires timing and ad-libbing in a manner that reveals a level of talent not used so often on CSC's Race Street stage.

This is a production that will certainly appeal to audiences looking for a relaxing, adult holiday amusement. I suspect it will have a strong following, so call now for reservations: You can arrive at 6 p.m. on performance nights (7:30 is when the show begins) for dinner and drinks, which will surely add to the evening's frivolity. Grade: B+

EVERY CHRISTMAS STORY EVER TOLD, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, continues on Sunday-Monday and Tuesday evenings through Dec. 19. Reservations: 513-381-2273.