Read This Before You Buy Your Holiday Tickets

Seriously.

Back Home Again Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center, 443-2222, www.seattlerep.org. $20–$58. 7:30 p.m. Tues.–Sun., 2 p.m. Sat.–Sun. Ends Dec. 24. You know when a radio station switches to a Christmas-only format the day after Thanksgiving and embarks upon a monthlong vacation from original thought? Is it OK for a major metropolitan area's premier repertory theater company to do the same? Assuming it's not, Back Home Again: A John Denver Holiday Concert is a perplexing and embarrassing programming decision by the Seattle Rep. The endeavor would at least be mildly entertaining if the players churned out respectable versions of Denver's classic hits, but those are few and far between, as creator and former Denver collaborator Dan Wheetman gives just as much voice to reheated Christmas carols like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." And while Home's two vocal leads, Denny Brooks and Gail Bliss, are polished singers, they exude a Branson-like cheesiness, a vibe that's enhanced by a phoned-in set design consisting of poinsettias, a couple of bales of hay, and generic screen shots of wintry nature (interspersed with a few Denver originals). What's more, the production boasts a strong Christian undercurrent rushing beneath a stream of hyperearnest mediocrity, rendering this performance as awkward as it would be if Sam Brownback were to keynote a Human Rights Campaign fund-raiser at Re-bar. MIKE SEELY Holiday Bizarre: A Jewish Christmas Tractor Tavern, 5213 Ballard Ave. N.W., 789-3599. $10. 8 p.m. Thurs., Dec. 13. An original musical written and performed by David Bestock, Quinn Redman, Eli Rosenblatt, and Ben Rosenblatt, Holiday Bizarre: A Jewish Christmas is, in a word, offensive. Jews, Christians, and arguably anyone with any sense of religiosity might find themselves horrified by this lampooning of spiritual beliefs. (The "Virgin" Mary, it turns out, had quite the affair with the Easter Bunny.) Fortunately, the God-fearing crowd kept its distance from the Tractor Tavern, and it was mostly in good humor that Joseph hired three Jewish lawyers to investigate and prosecute the man/spirit/rabbit who knocked up his wife. The trial is presided over by (why not?) the materialistic bottom-line businessman Santa Claus. Although a few puns fall flat, the majority of the jokes are surprisingly clever. The story line is loose, but then, Holiday Bizarre's plot is largely a vehicle for sketch comedy and original songs like "Jesus Is a Bastard." The show is particularly enjoyable when paired with a drink from the bar, which is 10 feet from the audience and open during the entire performance. BRENT ARONOWITZ Medea Knows Best Nebunele Theatre at Ground Floor Studio Theatre, 1529 10th Ave., 800-838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com. $12. 8 p.m. Fri.–Sat.; also 2 p.m. Sun., Dec. 16. Ends Dec. 22. "Ever get the feeling you're being watched?" Medea asks. What's gnawing at her is the ominous (almost idolatrous) television onstage. The backdrop of Nebunele Theatre's production is 1950s Corinth, a city, a TV variety show, and a conglomerate all in one. With Tupperware-party-throwing housewives as the Chorus, Jason in a dead-end job at Corinth Incorporated, and Medea as the quintessential iconoclast, the re-creation of the Euripides classic is as faithful as it can be: Medea creates her place in history, complete with expected revenge, regret, and filicide. Placed somewhere between sitcom, musical, and satire, the couple-thousand-year-old myth takes on new meaning. Despite being tangled in its own cleverness, the Wonderbread-America setting makes sense—the simplicity of the cartoonlike set pitted against the complexity of the characters and the intensity of the themes keeps the audience intrigued as we ponder the reinvention of Greek tragedy. IRFAN SHARIFF The No Hole Holiday SecondStory Repertory, 16587 N.E. 74th St., Redmond, 425-881-6777, www.secondstoryrep.org. $12–$15. 7:30 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 2:15 p.m. Sun.; also 2:15 p.m. Sat., Dec. 22. Ends Dec. 23. The greatest strength and weakness of The No Hole Holiday are one and the same: its unabashed innocence. You can take a 6-year-old safe in the knowledge that the kid won't be corrupted. On the other hand, the show holds no appeal for adults. No Hole, written and directed by Stan Gill, was originally produced in the late '80s, and while the show has by and large remained the same, our expectations for family-friendly entertainment have risen. In recent years, Disney and Pixar have proved that with complex characters and PG humor, adults can enjoy kids' movies, too. By contrast, No Hole is steadfastly simple; there's no question of right or wrong, a summary of the plot is provided every few scenes, and the children in the audience are the funniest part of the show. Your best bet would be to drop the kids off at the theater and get some holiday shopping done. BRENT ARONOWITZ The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Seattle Public Theater at the Greenlake Bathhouse, 7312 W. Green Lake Dr. N., 524-1300, www.seattlepublictheater.org. $15–$24. 7 p.m. Thurs.–Sat., 1 and 3 p.m. Sun.; also 1 and 3 p.m. Mon., Dec. 24. Ends Dec. 24. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever just isn't the sort of play one reviews, at least not in the way one might review, say, Seattle Public Theater's other seasonal offering, a production of David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries. The reasons for this are deep and complicated and diverse as early December snowflakes. Let's just say that to level any manner of critical eye on a holiday play full of kids re-creating the Nativity story would somehow run counter to the spirit of the season, and would take a heart colder than mine. I'm aware this could be seen as an evasion, implying as it does that the play sucks, and I don't want to lay a Scroogey lump of coal in some adolescent thespians' dramaturgical stockings. Not so. Here's the thing: There are times, such as Christmas, when normal rules should be tossed by the wayside, and such things as hitting your mark or mumbling your lines or dropping a prop appear less than relevant when compared to the elusive spirit of the moment. Spirit is not a quantifiable entity; it is an enigmatic and momentary something that can catch hold and lift you up. Put a lump in your throat, a tear in your eye. And The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, in its brief hour, captures that spirit. Barbara Robinson's play, directed by Jeff Hogan, is a simple story that unfolds with the earthy humanism of A Charlie Brown Christmas. The Herdmans, an unruly, bullying group of rug rats from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, hearing that there are free snacks to be had by attending the town's Sunday school, invade and take over the annual Christmas pageant. Through threats and coercion, they "volunteer" for all the key roles in the play: Now the Virgin Mary has a nose ring, the Wise Men are strutting hooligans, Joseph keeps hitting on a choir girl, and the play's littlest angel is a holy terror with a penchant for tearing around the stage clad in a cape and brandishing a nail gun. What's more, every new mother in town is so terrorized that none of them will donate their newborns to play the infant Jesus. Grace (Michelle Flowers)—the discombobulated mother tapped to fill in as director when the hard-nosed busybody who usually takes that role is suddenly hospitalized—is pushed to wit's end, seemingly incapable of maintaining control of her wild cast. Rumors of theft and cigar smoking fly, the church is nearly burned down, and on the night of the show, the auditorium is packed with an audience inspired by morbid curiosity. Needless to say, the play—by returning the story of Joseph and Mary to its human roots—is transformed by the very children who threatened to ruin it. The results are delightful and touching. On the night I attended, children in the audience were overcome by belly laughs, and I heard more than a couple of sniffles at the tears shed by the Virgin Mary at the play's conclusion. And, as revealed by Linus' soliloquy at the end of that Peanuts special, this is what the holiday is really, truly about. Whatever the nature or strength of your faith, the holidays—stripped of their consumerist pomp—should be a time of fellowship and universal love for all. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by focusing on the very human drama of the New Testament's central story, captures that sense of forgiving and fellowship, and sheds a little light on our common humanity. In its own humble way, it lifts the spirit. RICHARD MORIN

 
comments powered by Disqus