Who cares if the planet is fraught with terrorism, Arctic glaciers are vanishing as quickly as snowmen and gift-giving budgets are written in red (ink)?
Certainly not the Alliance Theatre. Most certainly not Dad’s Garage.
With “Merry %#!*ing Christmas,” our city’s most prestigious playhouse and our scruffiest comedy troupe pair up to tell us exactly how they feel about the most wonderful time of the year. (That is: It’s ripe for ridicule.)
Written by Dad’s artistic director Kevin Gillese and longtime collaborator Arlen Konopaki, the play that dare not speak its name in front of grandma arrives with deliberately poor timing and tastelessness. (In other words: We live in a time when air travel is risky and violence looms at every turn. But isn’t it better to go down laughing than crying?)
The first order of business is for one of the narrators to appear onstage to clarify the title. (Yes, it’s the F-word. Get over it!) The second is that nothing is sacred here. Santa, Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Frosty: Be prepared for our most iconic holiday characters to be skewered beyond recognition.
In this twisted tale for audiences 18 and older, Santa Claus (Chris Rittelmeyer) is a terrorist who recruits disciples by handing out guns in festively wrapped boxes. An Adorable Orphan (Karen Cassady) builds a Frosty the snow person (Taylor M. Dooley) with gender issues. And Ebenezer Scrooge (Chris Blair) trips in from the pages of Dickens to try to restore justice, with a down-on-his-luck urban dad named Jerry (Mark Kendall) as his bumbling partner.
It’s a recipe for bedlam that will not end prettily. And therein lies the humor.
Though the setup feels promising, the material often falls flat. It’s as if the writers didn’t have the chutzpah to really let it rip. Though it may seem ludicrous to try to discern the motives of this silly bunch, Santa’s behavior seems particularly murky. We know he hails from the corporate world and is bereft over the death of Mrs. Claus. But it would be nice to get a more fully rounded (ahem) portrait of this criminal Kriss Kringle.
The best shaped characters here are the Adorable Orphan and her friend, Frosty the Androgynous Snow Atheist. The diminutive Cassady’s natural childlike innocence, and voice, are perfect. And Dooley brings great energy and originality to Frosty. Her vocal shtick is hilariously deadpan, and she’s an amazing dancer, too.
When the orphan bemoans that all she got for Christmas was a stupid carrot, Frosty responds: “Was your friend a salad?”
The entire company — including narrator/jack of all trades Ed Morgan and narrator/musician James Watson — is universally good. Nadia Morgan’s sets are uncluttered and fun. Zoe Adberg’s costumes are appropriately merry and bright (except for the ragamuffin orphan, naturally). And Josh Santamaria paints it all with lovely light.
But even with this strong supporting team, the creators seem flummoxed when it comes to signaling shifts in time and location. So the actors are forced to repeat a cartoonish shazam-like body spin to depict a change of setting — a device that quickly proves tedious.
For those weary of the same old recycled holiday jokes, this production is a nice alternative. It will be a sure hit for the office-party crowd looking for a reason to don tacky Christmas sweaters and spread a little cheer. So merry %#!*ing Christmas to all, and to all a good night!