Holiday theater roundup
A Christmas Memory and The Thanksgiving Visitor
Provision Theater Company at Royal George Theatre. By Truman Capote. Adapted by Tim Gregory. Dir. Gregory. With Peggy Roeder, Rawson Vint, Mike Trehy.
The primary reason to adapt Truman Capote’s two holiday-themed stories is that somebody wasn’t doing them already; holiday theater is a buyer’s market, and uniqueness is key. And although these slight rural tales are so gentle you barely notice they’re there—a local bully gets invited to Thanksgiving dinner and everyone learns a lesson; a young man and his kindly landlady endure the gentle high jinks of making fruitcakes—Tim Gregory’s new production in the intimate upstairs Royal George space makes the most of the material. A sturdy troika of actors is employed here. Wide-eyed Vint anchors the event as the golly-gee narrator whose childhood reminiscences make up the evening’s substance, and Trehy doesn’t overplay his boogeyman villainous bits. But its careworn Roeder as the wisdom-muttering biddy who makes this shamelessly manipulative show a treat. —Christopher Piatt
Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Rosemont Theatre. With the Rockettes.
Mentally low maintenance, this long-running, kid-friendly yuletide pep rally is like receiving a pair of elaborately wrapped panty hose for Christmas: Cut through the candy-colored packaging and tissue paper (in this case, some second-rate, prerecorded musical numbers featuring Santa, elves and Happy Days–ish “teens”), and you realize it’s all about legs. Here, that’s not entirely bad. Yes, the Rockettes have gams, and those perma-smiling gals know how to use them—and not just in the kick-line formation so ubiquitous in their advertising. Actually, the show’s most thrilling scene is its most subdued: Dressed as toy soldiers, the Rockettes march in vise-tight formation before gracefully toppling to the floor like human dominos. After all the secular pomp comes “The Living Nativity,” and unwittingly with it perhaps America’s most storied holiday tradition: awkwardly tacking on Christ at the tail end of Christmas. —Jake Malooley
Winter Pageant Redux
Redmoon Central. Created by Jim Lasko, Frank Maugeri, Vanessa Stalling. Dir. Stalling. With ensemble cast.
Not surprisingly, Redmoon’s celebration of the four seasons offers an abstract interpretation of the familiar. Overheated office workers seek relief by dancing with a fish. A gravity-defying coal miner rappels across the stage floor. Tiny shreds of paper (torn by wee audience members) become the weapon of choice in a youthful snowball fight. And spring gets heroic treatment as it arrives to much delight aboard a gigantic, fruit-covered ship. The return of the Winter Pageant, Redmoon’s longest-running spectacle, is filled with magic—and questions—for the whole family. Our eight-year-old companion smiled with wonder at the spectacular visual tricks and jumped at the chance to turn the gears of the intricate season-inspired nickelodeons created for the show by associate artistic director Frank Maugeri. But our 12-year-old took a more discerning view, leaning over midshow to whisper, “I don’t get it. Where’s the story?” A Redmoon classic, indeed. —Amy Carr
The Santaland Diaries
Theater Wit at Theatre Building Chicago. By David Sedaris. Dir. Jeremy Wechsler. With Mitchell Fain.
This American Life junkies probably won’t stop comparing Mitchell Fain’s portrayal of Crumpet with David Sedaris’s canonical reading. So it’s fortunate that Fain interprets the monologue of the disgruntled 33-year-old Macy’s Christmas elf in a different but believable way, allowing some genuine merriment to infuse Crumpet’s acid mockery of power-mad managers, creepy Santas, bovine customers and his own fantasies of soap-opera success. This revived stage version doesn’t yield new insights into Sedaris’s material, but it vividly brings the humiliations of Santaland to life with little more than a giant candy cane, its star’s ludicrous costume and the fake store announcements that blare from the loudspeakers. Despite a saccharine coda, it’s hard not to like this martini-flavored antidote to Christmas cheer. —Lauren Weinberg
Soiree Dada: Schmückt der Hallen
WNEP Theater at Storefront Theater. Created by WNEP ensemble. Dir. Don Hall. With ensemble cast.
Decked out in fright paint and sporting mostly Teutonic accents that run the gamut from Cabaret’s MC to Maurice Chevalier, the cast of WNEP’s evocatively titled holiday Dada show rings in Christmas with competing shout monologues, nonmusical carols and vaguely threatening audience-involvement gambits, situating the holiday somewhere on the dark side of Festivus. (“You cannot open that present” is a frequent refrain.) Part of the company’s commitment to contemporary exploration of the aggressive nonsense art pioneered by Marcel Duchamp, this is WNEP’s sixth Soiree experiment. You’ll laugh, but possibly one at a time: The overall effect is more alarming than funny—which, given the material, is another way of saying that the show has the courage of its convictions. —Ben Kenigsberg
A Very Neo-Futurist Christmas Carol
Neo-Futurists. By Kristie K. Vuocolo and ensemble. Dir. Chloe Johnston and Vuocolo. With ensemble cast.
Riffs on Dickens are a dime a dozen this time of year, but the Neos’ take, both regretful and hilarious, is the freshest we’ve seen in some time. Vivisecting holiday traditions in their traditionally nontraditional way, Vuocolo and company use the very English tale of Scrooge, the Cratchits and the spirits of past, present and future to lay out their very American neuroses about the season. It’s the past that’s most present: From nonpracticing cast members Seth Zurer and Bilal Dardai’s uncomfortable classroom memories to diminutive Jessica Anne’s childhood food phobias to Emjoy Gavino’s emphatic invocation of Barbra Streisand’s Christmas tunes, this warmhearted Neo-Carol is rooted in the myriad cultural contradictions of our collective winter celebration. —Kris Vire