Critic's PickI am sorry for your luck if you haven’t yet obtained tickets for Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some) at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Even before the show opened on Sunday evening, most of its two-week run was sold out. A few more performances were added: 2:30 p.m. matinees on Dec. 22, 23, 29 and 30. If you hurry, you might yet score a seat for one of those dates. Otherwise, there’s a little less holiday humor for you.
Starting in 2006, Cincy Shakes offered this raucous run-down of holiday tales, movies, TV specials and tunes at the courtyard at Arnold’s Bar & Grill downtown. It was a popular holiday entertainment there, but it could only be presented on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings when Arnold’s didn’t have music or other events. This year it’s moved to CSC’s mainstage at 719 Race St., and tickets have been selling like candy canes.
It appears to me that six years of fine-tuning have made this seventh production all the funnier. At Arnold’s when I last attended, it felt a little too crass and ad-libbed. It’s still a piece that you definitely don’t want to bring the kids to see, but the humor is sharp and quick by four actors — Billy Chace, Sara Clark and Justin McCombs, plus Miranda McGee, who brings her jaunty Australian wit in full force to portray a tipsy Santa Claus, the evening’s jolly emcee. These performers know just where to put the comic emphasis.
Sara Clark, who excels at roles of wise, rational females in works by Shakespeare and other classic works, gets to be the advocate for Charles Dickens, whose Christmas Carol is mocked by Chace and McCombs, who play a multitude of characters.
Clark’s lit-loving character can’t get any traction, so she’s cajoled into the others’ eagerness to celebrate with other holiday stories (“Beloved Holiday Classics”) — including How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Gustav, the Green-Nosed Reingoat (a transformed version of Rudolph which they claim they have to do for copyright reasons), a porno riff on fruitcake and a lusty take on “Frosty the Snowman.”
The two-act evening has a lot of shenanigans that follow a script (the program credits writers Michael Carleton, John K.
Alvarez and James Fitzgerald), but rest assured that, with a lot of encouragement from director Jeremy Dubin, this cast finds plenty of opportunity to inject contemporary references and local jokes. The first act (about 70 minutes) runs through the aforementioned tales and several more, wrapping up with a semi-serious rendition of A Charlie Brown Christmas, complete with a scrawny tree and Linus reminding everyone of the true meaning of the holiday. After intermission, Clark’s desire to enact A Christmas Carol (in a 23-minute second act) is granted. But it becomes a hilarious mash-up with characters from It’s a Wonderful Life constantly infiltrating the Victorian tale, and Clark spinning like a top as both Ebenezer Scrooge and George Bailey.
If you’ve ever seen The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), which has been staged numerous times by Cincinnati Shakespeare, you know the shtick: Things start down a semi-serious path then veer off into the ridiculous. For instance, McCombs starts into “Bob Dylan’s A Child’s Christmas with Whales”; Clark has to set him straight that it should be Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. But the humor is just as often sophomoric: There’s a running gag about “give me a hand” (soaking applause from the audience) and dumb jokes about crazy words that evoke “gesundheits” and high-fives. Trust me, it’s the height of silliness.
What elevates Every Christmas Story Ever Told to the best adult entertainment this holiday season is a cast of committed performers who are having a ball with the material. Billy Chace is a lounge lizard (he wears a red plaid dinner jacket and carries a bright green martini glass at one point), full of double-entendres, while McCombs willingly takes on every silly caricature imaginable, from a porn star to the bump-and-grind Frosty. McGee, seated at stage left with a remote to cue appropriately goofy music, inserts a steady stream of wry observations, sometimes getting up close and personal with audience members. And Clark’s efforts as solemnity quickly dissolve into the nuttiness of the other two (keep an eye out for a 30-second version of the Nutcracker in which she plays a key part). I predict this show will become a regular moneymaker for CSC — until someone decides it’s time to make fun of it.
*Ohmigod, it’s a “Beloved Holiday Classic.”
EVERY CHRISTMAS STORY EVER TOLD (AND THEN SOME), presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, continues through Dec. 30.