Friday, December 18, 2009

Spandex magnolias

Barbara Douglas, Heather Peterson, and Carrie Ann Quinn are the Christmas Belles.

Sigh. I almost didn't write about Christmas Belles, which closes this weekend at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre, because all I could leave in its critical stocking was a lump of coal. And it wasn't really the fault of its likable cast or intentionally tacky production. No, the problem is that this particular sub-genre of alternative Christmas pageant - the "Tuna Christmas" show - has probably exhausted itself.

The script, which has been assembled by three television writers - Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten - only reminds one how much sitcoms rely on laugh tracks and "warmed up" audiences. Or perhaps it reminds one that television writers simply save their best stuff for television. At any rate, the up-to-the-minute quips that can bring snap to these stereotypes have pretty much gone missing here, and since the "story" is just a cribbed-together frame for the knowing wisecracks, the show heads south in more ways than one when you realize you can come up with every punch line yourself just before it lands.

I admit, though, that Christmas Belles is harmless (if you ignore the faint whiff of blue-state condescension floating from it), so if you have a jones for this kind of thing - ladies of the Texas trailer park in spandex and heels, their clueless men-folk, and a Christmas pageant gone horribly wrong - you may enjoy basking in its Coke-marinaded atmosphere once again (even if you don't laugh all that much). Director Greg Maraio - who also supplied the skin-tight costumes and some of the d├ęcor - knows he has to keep things moving, so you're never quite bored, even if you're never quite engaged, either. The cast members certainly throw themselves into it, and Jackie Davis, Heather Peterson, Maureen Aducci, and Rory Kulz do rise above the fray with characterizations a bit more textured than spandex. So merry Christmas, y'all.

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