Eye of the StormTheater
WHEN WRITER DAVID Sedaris (Barrel Fever, Naked) first moved to New York, he took a Christmas job playing an elf in Macy's Santaland section, though his real dream was to act on One Life to Live. Sedaris quickly assimilated into Santaland's absurd subculture, as actor Stephen Cartmell illustrates in this one-man show (adapted from Sedaris's eponymous radio monologue). You get the sense that the decidedly elfin Cartmell has also become engulfed in the world of an indoor North Pole. He's so far inside this story, we forget someone else wrote it. One imagines the actor must be haunted by nightmares of monstrous parents and terrified babies; Santas of varying levels of delusion about really being Santa; Phil Collins standing in the photo line. Cartmell keeps the audience rapt for the whole hour and finds hidden corners of humor beyond the text through body language and subtle timing. Santa's lap will never look the same again. (Kate Sullivan)
Through December 28, Loring Playhouse; 332-1619.
Silent Night Fever
Martini & Olive
DURING THE FIRST half-hour or so, I had to put down my grilled-cheese sandwich or risk pulling a Mama Cass; I was laughing so hard my throat started to cramp up. Martini & Olive's '70s pop medleys seem more relentless than ever, their costumes more embarrassing than before, and the choreography as painful as can be. For the uninitiated, Martini & Olive are a Guffman-esque amateur song-and-dance duo who cut and paste swatches of good and bad '70s tunes into gooey extended remixes, all punctuated with fabulous moves like you haven't seen since your sixth-grade talent show. Their Sonny and Cher-style treadmill of costume changes will spin your head: the platforms! the poofy Jackson-Five denim hats! the love handles! Knowing the performers (Grant Richey and Judy Heneghan) actually lived through that desolate decade as sentient adolescents, one feels these two have earned the right to cash in on '70s nostalgia. (Anne Ursu)
Through December 31 at the Bryant-Lake Bowl; call 825-8949.
The Bremen Town Musicians
The Burning House Group
PRESENTED BY THE Burning House Group, The Bremen Town Musicians is a charming--if not exactly Christmas-spirited--adaptation of a relatively obscure and nonsensical Brothers Grimm tale. The story involves four aging farm animals who set out to make their living as street musicians. Instead, a sudden career change comes when the animals frighten off a band of robbers, steal their food, and--like a kiddie Clockwork Orange--take over their house.
The Burning House Group has turned this piece into an interesting and quite watchable movement-theater experiment. Matt Guidry is particularly impressive as the rubber-limbed, goofy-eyed donkey. But then he is also the most clearly schooled disciple of the Margolis Brown method of movement theater, whose techniques are both used and abused here. Wearing cleverly designed outfits--a dog, cat, rooster, and donkey--that allow for sufficient anthropomorphism, the troupe does manage to inject some heart into the characters despite the dopiness of the tale. And The Bremen Town Musicians is only 45 minutes long, so it's over before it has a chance to drag. (Tad Simons)
The Bremen Town Musicians continues at the Pillsbury Playhouse through December 21; 623-9396.
IF ALL NATIVITIES were like this, I might go to church. It's Penumbra's 11th go 'round for this show, and one leaves hoping for 11 more. The Nativity is celebrated through the whole corporeal vessel: An exuberant gospel choir marvels with body, voice, and soul; and the ridiculously talented Jason Ansra Brooks and Luctricia Welters convey Joseph and Mary's emotions through handsome choreography. It's lamentable that Midwestern theatrical conventions--Minnesota's great white way, if you will--denies these performers the response they deserve. The actor's elation would be best realized in a classic gospel setting instead of the polite and staid sit-down-and-stay-down feel of the Fitzgerald. But then that cold response might be a result of the literally icy house atmosphere; the folk at the Fitzgerald seem to be going for an environmental theater no-room-at-the-inn effect with the climate control. (Ursu)
Through December 28 at the Fitzgerald Theatre; 989-5151 (Ticketmaster).
Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre
AFTER SO MANY years of producing puppet theater for children, you'd think the folks at Heart of the Beast would learn something about pace and momentum--like how to include some. The Hunt, the story of Christ's birth told both in English and Spanish and adapted from the writings of St. Matthew and St. Luke, is a case in point. Combining HOTB's best and worst characteristics, The Hunt is a beautifully imagined, big-puppet theater spectacle told at a snail's pace with about as much energy as a napping dog. You really have to work hard to dull down a show with this much visual appeal, but HOTB somehow manages it.
For diehard fans, though, The Hunt has its pleasures: 10-foot-tall Picasso-esque wise men; giant dancing reindeer; flying angels; citizens of an entire village (including Joseph and Mary) cut out of cardboard. The most inspired and entertaining parts posit King Herod as a demonic agent of Wall Street who orders the slaughter of the innocents via cell phone--HOTB's obligatory swipe at Big Brother capitalism.
Parents needn't worry too much about the theater's warning that the slaughter scene may disturb the tender consciences of children under 10. When the babies are "shot" by military goons, the cardboard kids simply pop off their cardboard parents and fall onto the floor, where the ghost of death sweeps them up. When asked what his favorite part was after the show, my four-and-a-half-year-old son immediately answered, "the death skull."
So much for the protection of innocence. (Simons)
The Hunt continues at Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater through December 28, 721-2535.
Dudley Riggs Brave New Workshop
THIS ISN'T A true holiday show, so much as a few holiday-oriented bits tacked on to the troupe's current offering, a dazed tour of hotspots in the sexual revolution (which is still on, believe you me). Skits deal with all areas of sexual preference among human adults, though the funniest bit takes place in a support group for people in the process of changing species: One's becoming a pony, one a loon, the group leader a squirrel. Some skits are just plain weird, like "Cute Man," a takeoff of Dead Man Walking about a crazy guy on death row with a freakishly high voice.
The most remarkable thing about Gender Vittles, though, is the way it veers around all your expectations of a Brave New Workshop show. It's obviously geared toward a far younger and hipper audience than shows of recent vintage, with sketches that don't seem overly concerned with whether these folks can immediately understand what's going on at any given moment. The skits touch on some pretty painful subjects--castration, domestic violence, sexual harassment, cruelty to children--and I left feeling a little greasy all over. I don't recall if the actors swore (except for using the word "bitch"), but I feel as if they did--all night long. It's that kind of show. And for the moment, that's rather refreshing, considering the source. (Sullivan)
Through January 11 at the Dudley Riggs Theater; 332-6620.
A Christmas Carol
IF A CHRISTMAS CAROL is what you want, you must get to the Guthrie. The Guthrie has managed to keep this chestnut warm against all odds--though, granted, it helps inestimably to have Dickens writing your material. This year's Scrooge, Jarlath Conroy, is especially good: Instead of eagerly metamorphosing into a good-doer, Conroy maintains continuity between malevolent and virtuous Scrooge; he's the same person, only peering through a new set of spectacles. (And Conroy's eyebrows-askew grimace is one of the Scroogiest I've ever seen.)
Unfortunately, Sir John Gielgud's taped narration gets lost amid the hubbub of rousing party scenes, and the great actor's diction is failing. It's a shame, because the show's sharpest component is still Dickens's sublime prose. Richard Ooms allows us to see him trying to be scary as Marley's ghost, which deflates the spookiness of his bedroom invasion. Still, this excellent Christmas Carol preserves Dickens's message: None of us lives in a vacuum, and we ignore human interdependence our own peril. (Ursu)
Through December 28 at the Guthrie Theater; 377-2224.