Tuesday, December 13, 2011

All you want for Christmas - and less!

The Reduced Shakespeare Company
Okay, folks, it's back to our regularly scheduled programming here at the Hub Review.  When I heard that the Reduced Shakespeare Company (you know, the guys who famously "abridged" the Bard) was coming to the Merrimack Rep with their Christmas show, I couldn't help but wonder, "Wow - has someone really figured out a way to abridge Christmas?"

Well, no such luck, I'm afraid.  The RSC's (yeah, it kind of reminds you of that other Shakespeare company, doesn't it) Ultimate Christmas Show doesn't really boast any of the whip-smart condensations that made The Complete Works such a hoot (like the British crown working its way down a football field in a mash-up of the history plays).  Instead, this time you get a quick shot of just about every tradition in the seasonal sprawl - from the Nativity to Dickens to the Nutcracker to Kwanzaa and Hanukkah - at random, without much in the way of witty insight connecting the dots.

The conceit for all this is that a blizzard has stranded the traveling "St. Everybody's Universalist Multicultural Interfaith Holiday Variety Show and Christmas Pageant." So the RSC is forced, like Judy and Mickey back in the day, to put on the show themselves. And if that set-up sounds a little tired, I also have to report that part of the joke is that the wit isn't actually all that fresh, either - you've heard many of these gags (or something like them) before; the fact that even our Christmas parodies are going meta is built right into the show.

Still, the energy of the RSC - Reed Martin, Austin Tichenor, and Matt Rippy (at right) - keeps the show moving, and gradually it wins you over.  These guys are willing to do anything for a laugh (warning: they not only cross-dress at will but also come out in their underwear) - but as they keep throwing comic spaghetti (and ornaments and holly) at the theatrical wall, some of it inevitably sticks.  And their sheer gonzo-goofiness is appealing, too - even when they willfully pursue "stoo-pid" ideas (I don't know why dressing the Three Wise Men up as the BeeGees is funny, for example, but slowly it becomes hilarious).

To my mind, the audience participation sequences were the jolliest - particularly the sing-along "Twelve Days of Christmas," in which people got to carol their own wish list (Ferraris and Maseratis were popular items up in Lowell).  And a few of the lines, like "I'm a Utilitarian; I believe in God when it's useful!" were up to the usual RSC standard.  I'm also happy to admit that the finale - in which the Nutcracker gets it in the pistachios - was well worth the wait. And for all the jabs at political correctness, rest assured, this is a naughty, but also very politically-correct, show.  And a sweet one, too.  Which is perfectly okay, to my mind; I mean, seriously, what's so funny about peace, love and understanding?

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