A theater friend and I were recently discussing Christmas shows, and we concluded that 70 to 80 percent of them are A Christmas Carol re-tellings, 19 to 29 percent are lame, and about 1 percent are worth performing. And chances are, you or a theater near you put on most of the good ones in the last few years.
However you decide to celebrate this year, the theater is kind of a quintessential part of the season—most folks have memories of bundling up with their parents and seeing a matinee some December. But without great scripts, what’s a company to do? Three venues in Santa Fe are dealing with it in different ways.
First up was the Santa Fe Playhouse’s Seasoned Greetings. To solve the script problem, the cast of six women of varying ages and specialties were tasked with creating an original and honest show about the holidays, drawing from each of their unique experiences. I’ve seen everything the playhouse has staged in 2017, and I’ve been impressed by just about everything … So it’s forgivable that this one falls flat.
Among the skits and vignettes, poetry, dance, video productions, audience participation and original music, there were some nice moments, but mostly it was an ambitious staging that perhaps could have used another week in rehearsal.
The stories felt heavy-handed (letters to dead family members; vegan lesbians having to go to the Christian mother’s house for the holidays; a reminder that homeless people and deployed soldiers aren’t as happy as you are right now), and focused a lot on how stressful and unpleasant the holidays can be. All of this is valid, sure, but I watched from behind the rose-colored glasses of someone who loves Christmas and has an awesome family, so I must admit, I waited in vain for someone to say something nice about the holidays.
All that being said, beyond the halting and saccharine delivery, I wasn’t looking for profundity. And it’s unlikely that anyone else in the audience was, either. There were deeper, more poignant places to which this show could have gone, and it didn’t—but maybe that’s fine. Plus, there was a noisy but very aesthetically pleasing snow machine, and that helped.
Next up on the Christmas Tour was Teatro Paraguas’ A Musical Piñata for Christmas, the theater’s fifth iteration of its community Christmas story. Featuring actors from 3-ish years old to 70-plus, both seasoned pros and newcomers, with music, dance and an actual piñata at the end, it was pretty much what you’d see if you looked up “community theater” in a dictionary.
This year featured, in its first act, an historical play about Santa Fe written by local theater superhero Alix Hudson, whose endless energy always lights up the stage. Even with tenuous performances from some of the less experienced actors, Hudson’s script carried the tale; a special nod goes out to “The Telephone Girls,” student actresses who played operators, whose scenes always flowed easily and got plenty of laughs.
Despite myself, a syrupy rendition of “O Holy Night” put me in tears. One particularly cute little boy played with toy cars onstage (not as part of the show; it’s just what he was doing). A rousing solo performance on charango from Mario Reynolds drew whoops and cheers. Paraguas Executive Director Argos MacCallum danced around wearing some contraption with wooden dowels that turned one Santa into three Santas. Need I say more?
After shows, Santa Feans have a strange habit of leaving the theater immediately—even if they have friends in the cast, no one waits around. Folks who came up in other towns (myself included) don’t get this. That being said, everyone stuck around after Piñata. I’m telling you—community, man. It’s real at Paraguas.
So, those are two options for folks who just like to have some fun at the theater at Christmas—but what is there for the snobs who want to, like, wear heels to the theater and stroke their beards thoughtfully?
For those folks: The most fun I had at the theater on my Weekend ’o’ Christmas was at the Adobe Rose Theatre’s The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged). This script, by the way, is part of the 1 percent of good ones I referenced at the beginning. Written by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor of the internationally touring Reduced Shakespeare Company (did you catch them at the Lensic this summer? They were hilarious), it does precisely what you’d expect: It represents just about every Christmas tradition there is with only three people. There are lots of costumes, strange props and a ton of audience participation. Get ready to yell stuff out.
The actors, all of whom are current or former students of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design and all of whom are heartbreakingly talented (please don’t leave us!), are fast, funny, impeccable, beautiful, and, gosh, just overall great. (Yes, I am totally fangirling over Mariah Olesen, Dylan Norman and Koppany Pusztai.) The script’s bones are strong, off-color (a Confederate choir singing “White Christmas” is just the beginning) and adaptable to current events. The play isn’t old—it debuted in 2012—but there’s plenty that has been added just for 2017, including a creepy and uncanny Trump impression from Pusztai.
They also sing like butter (actually, I think I used the word “velvet” to describe Norman’s portrayal of Cliff Bradshaw in Cabaret over the summer, so let’s stick with that), change costumes with unfathomable speed, pull audience members onstage, and write a new “Twelve Days of Christmas” on the spot based on things attendees shout out. Oh, and there’s also a gift exchange at intermission; bring a wrapped doo-dad worth $5 or so and swap it for something else under the tree.
So, overall, Santa Fe knows how to do Christmas. Be like me and see them all—I dare you. But get your tickets soon, because all the performances I attended were packed.
7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday Dec. 14-16; 2 pm Sunday Dec. 17; through Dec. 24. $15-$25. Santa Fe Playhouse, 142 E De Vargas St., 988-4262