By Dave Barton
By LP Hastings
By Sarah Bennett
By LP Hastings
By Jena Ardell
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
By Joel Beers
Bah! And Furthermore, Humbug!
On a scale of 1 to 100, how much do these plays make you feel like the 12 days of Christmas are more like 12 weeks?
Houses of Christian worship and retailers aren’t the only ones looking to graze at the manger of the superstar known as Jesus Christ. Even the theater—that long-marginalized and minimized sector of the contemporary American zeitgeist—uses Christ’s mass and the interminably long holiday season that predates it to boost its ticket sales.
Finding a play staged between Thanksgiving weekend and Dec. 25 that doesn’t have something to do with Christmas isn’t impossible, just nearly so. In that respect, theaters are merely following the lead of TV and film (excluding those movies hoping for an Oscar nod), reaching out to the most common denominator at a time when anything non-holiday-related seems to be such a tough sell.
But the fact that theaters choose plays primarily on their connection to Christmas and not, say, because the work is meaningful, compelling or important does open them up to criticism. Or, at least, it should. If anything, theater’s marginalized status gives it the opportunity to offer an alternative to saccharine holiday fare, a chance to use this time of mythical rebirth and enlightenment to say something, anything, about the human condition, rather than follow the seductive scent of dollars.
So, for self-respecting theater fans, December is by far the cruelest month. Which is why OC Weekly is proud to baptize a new technology intended to rank holiday offerings on local stages in terms of how much their seasonal pandering makes you want to deck them right in the halls. It’s called the Lamentably Asinine Merrymaking Experience, or LAME for short, an index that rates how much a holiday-oriented show embraces the gross consumerism, empty nostalgia and be-happy-or-else vapidity of the holiday season.
Trademark is pending.
The Winter Wonderettes
A few spirited young women in the mid-1960s who work at a hardware store facing imminent closure rally the troops by wowing them with a bunch of familiar Christmas songs. LAME index: 88. Reviews from around the country call this show jolly and bouncy. It no doubt is and probably anyone this side of the Grinch will crack a smile or two, but instead of trafficking in warm, fuzzy nostalgia and wildly forced cheer, why not just hand out bottles of Prozac? Or peppermint schnapps? Laguna Playhouse, www.lagunaplayhouse.org, Nov. 24-Dec. 30.
A Christmas Carol
This marks the 30th straight year that SCR has staged Charles Dickens’ famed 1864 novella about Jacob Marley and some guy he haunts. LAME index: 30. What’s that? How on earth could this done-to-death chestnut of holiday theater only merit a 30 on a 1-to-100 scale? Isn’t it staged by theaters large and small everywhere? Didn’t it have as much to do with the creation of a secular Christmas as just about any other literary force? Absolutely! But SCR’s production benefits from fantastic production values and also features Hal Landon Jr., who, after playing Scrooge each year, should have his visage etched onto the OC Theater Mount Rushmore.
Plus, though versions of Dickens’ novel have been channeled through vehicles as suspect as Mr. Magoo and Al Bundy, the truth is that the classic tale is a big fuck you to the industrial-capitalism complex, as well as a reminder that we are all fellow passengers on the same track, our ultimate duty being helping one another, rather than sating our greedy impulses. (It would enjoy an even lower LAME ranking if SCR’s top tickets didn’t tap out at $59.) South Coast Repertory, www.scr.org, Nov. 28-Dec. 26.
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues
An R-rated series of monologues featuring Santa Claus’ favorite four-legged animals. He, really, really liked them, apparently. LAME index: 20. It’s irreverent, edgy and very, very funny, and the Chance has perfected its staging over the past five years. This one features a rotating cast that uses past performers and new ones. So if it’s one of the truly alternative-holiday offerings out there, why the score of 20? Because it’s still about Santa’s fucking reindeer! Chance Theater, www.chancetheater.com, Dec. 1-19.
The Glory of Christmas
This is the 16th annual installment of this Garden Grove religious institution’s pageant of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. LAME index: 96. Charging up to $45 to watch a pageant about the birth of a historical figure born in a manger and who is quoted at length about his disdain for materialism and wealth is reason enough to blast this show. But it’s also garishly produced: The “angels” soaring above the audience’s head are downright dread-inducing, and the parade of donkeys, camels and horses clomping through one of the most ostentatiously ornate cathedrals on the face of the planet only adds to the profound disconnect. This is a weird show in a weird place, and its LAME index would be an imperfect 100, but we’re guessing that at least 30 pieces of the silver raised somehow make their way back into the community to help the poor and destitute (at least they’d better). The Crystal Cathedral, www.crystalcathedral.org, Dec. 3-Jan. 3.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
This is the fourth go-round of the Maverick’s staging of the 1964 cult classic, which usually makes most of the lists of the worst films ever made. LAME index: 50. This is a big audience-pleaser for the Maverick, and at least the place has decided to use an offbeat show like this one instead of, say, It’s a Wonderful Life as its annual holiday offering. But no matter how campy a lampoon of a wonderfully horrible movie, it’s still a lot of trouble over a little fat man in a red suit. Maverick Theater, www.maverick.com, Dec. 4-27.
Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart, But the Very Next Day You Said You Were Gay
Orange County’s gay-and-lesbian theater wheels out its “big, gay, Christmas spectacular” for the fourth straight year. LAME index: 35. Even if this features same-sex couples or sexually conflicted individuals and is an intentionally silly show that revels in stereotypes and satire, it’s still firmly in the Christmas camp (and extra LAME points for making George Michael’s voice turn on in our heads). Theatre Out, www.theatreout.org, Dec. 4-19.
The Lion In Winter
James Goldman’s 1966 play is set during Christmas 1183 in the court of Henry II, the first king to seize the English throne under suspect circumstances, ushering in a daisy chain of dynastic struggles that would plague the sceptred isle for 600 years—and give Shakespeare a shitload to write about. LAME index: 0. Not a Santa hat or Jingle Bells in sight! Hunger Artists, hungerartists.net, Dec. 4-20.