The return of three seasonal chestnuts are both naughy and nice
PUSS IN BOOTS, KD Studio
Theatre, 2600 N Stemmons #180. Through Dec. 20. $18.
THE SANTALAND DIARIES, Greenville Center for the Arts, 5601 Sears St. Through Dec. 20. $15. ContemporaryTheatreofdallas.com.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Through Dec. 27. $45â€“$63. DallasTheaterCenter.org.
This time of year, many theaters unleash their holiday shows. It can sometimes feel like a chore seeing them again, but happily, the crop this season all have the desired effect: They put you in the spirit of the holidays better than a flu shot and without the side effects.
The Dallas Theater Center is staging its final production of A Christmas Carol at the Kalita Humphreys Theater (it will move to the DTC’s new digs in the Wyly in 2010), but it still managed to nip and tuck the production in places. The set’s the same, as are the script, the Bob Cratchit (Chamblee Ferguson) and the director-choreographer (Joel Ferrell). But we are given a new Scrooge (DTC company member Sean Hennigan, the first locally-cast Ebenezer in my memory), a new Ghost of Christmas Present (Natalie King, stepping into the pumps left by Liz Mikel and Denise Lee but not filling them as authoritatively), a new Marley (James Crawford, who gets a jump-out-of-your-skin entrance) … and a lot of the old wassail.
There’s a fun energy to the performance, with Tiny Tim again stealing the show and Joanne Schellenberg ever-engaging as an androgynous Ghost of Christmas Past. Hennigan is a welcome addition, and it’s all very warm and fuzzy.
But while the performances mostly hold it up and there are a few modifications in pacing and staging, the script’s ability to delight has lost its power. When the show does migrate downtown next year, the DTC really should reinvent the production entirely. The tale is a classic, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be spruced up. Indeed, a spruce fits in very nicely with Christmas, if you ask me.
I’ve probably seen The SantaLand Diaries almost as many times as Nye Cooper has performed it, so I could probably recite the lines from memory as accurately as Cooper, who has undertaken the role annually so long, when he started people actually expected to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Yeah, maybe I could do it as accurately, but I could not approach the level of witty brilliance that Cooper has set.
What’s still surprising is, each season Cooper’s interpretation gets tweaked, making it always fresh. It has gotten to the point where, when I imagine the lines, I no longer hear the nasal whine of David Sedaris in my head, but Cooper’s subtle twang.
The play — an hour-long monologue about a 30-something man reduced to working as a department store elf over Christmas to pay the bills — is a plum-pudding opportunity for an actor who likes to do voices, which Cooper does with more variety than in the past. Throughout the years, he’s moved from bitter cynic to the desperately unemployed to this year’s incarnation as a spritely and bemused fellow traveler; he’s having as much fun as the audience.
Which is easy to imagine, since the play — framed by director Coy Covington’s insidious use of the "music" of Korean croaker Wing to set the tone — is a delicious hoot, and Cooper, grinning like the Cheshire cat. Makes the hubbub of the holidays seem almost bearable.
Ivan Jones really is a cat, though not the Cheshire variety, in Puss in Boots, Theatre Britain’s annual Christmas panto. An English tradition, the panto is a fairy tale with silly gags, sing-alongs, audience participation and music, but to call it a kids’ show is to underestimate the essential bawdiness of it all.
There’s the drag element — a girl typically plays the male lead; a man in a dress plays the comic "dame" role — but also the saucy double entendres that fly over the heads of children but smack the adults right in the face. This year’s version, written for Theatre Britain by Jackie Mellor-Guin and directed by Sue Roberts-Birch, is as racy as they’ve ever gone (and, according to Roberts-Birch, still not quite at the level of ribaldry you’d find across the pond, but close).
Just how suggestive? The song "His Pride," ostensibly about stroking a man’s ego, sounds much more sexual with references to a man’s "tool," and "thingy" and making him "stiffer than his upper lip."
Yeah. It really does go there.
The song is sold by Mark Shum, returning as the dame Nanny Knickers. Shum is a veteran of the cheeky eye role, and here, dressed in a costume that resembles a baroque cookie jar, he has a blast.
Jones, as the mischievous title kitten, transforms himself physically. Wiry and limber as a gymnast, Jones tongue-grooms himself and pounces with feline assurance. He’s also a wonderful host, engaging the audience (especially the young’uns) with an approachable and infectious smile. In smaller roles, Becca Shivers and Silas Moores stand out by throwing themselves into the playful magic of the piece.
Darryl Clement’s set, a massive picture book whose scenery changes as the pages are literally turned, is an ingenious and impressive achievement that also conjures the "and then what happened" appeal of a fairy tale. When they expose the last scene and you realize there are no more pages to turn, it’s almost sad to see it end. It’s a feel-good experience, like having "A Visit from St. Nicholas" read to you on Christmas Eve.
Hands off, Santa!
This is the final weekend to catch The Eight Reindeer Monologues by Jeff Goode. In this twisted Christmas tale, the reindeer have a lot to get off their chests and when they do, Santa might just have a sexual harrassment suit on his hands. Even the elves might not be innocent here.
With a gay-heavy cast, including Leslie Boren, pictured, as Blitzen, the show will most likely turn the holiday on its head with this funny tale of shocking perversion.
The Green Zone, 161 Riveredge Drive. Through Saturday. 8 p.m. $10. TumorBoyProductions.blogspot.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 11, 2009.