Imagine a short play festival, lounge act and casual Christmas/Holiday celebration all in one and you’ve got the Avery Schreiber Theatre’s latest impending holiday fete, “A Snowman’s Chance in Hell”.
Offering up four satirical winter solstice inspired plays, we are guided betwixt the laugher via the musical stylings of the sweet and endearing Julie Raelyn. She opens the pre-play festivities and “Heartwarming Humbugs” with “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”, then makes all necessary introductions including informing us of the emergency exits by adding that we may all “follow the screaming actors” if, in a moment of panic, we have forgotten where they are should a random Christmas Tree catch on fire or some such. In closing she admits, “We can’t give you a Winter Wonderland but can give you holiday fun.” (Because we are in Southern California, see?)
The Holiday Letter by Suzanne Bailie is ironically not so very ‘fun’ in only the most humorous of senses as it opens with a Christmas letter being composed by one brother, Josh, played by Jim Coyle, on one side of the stage and read (after having been intercepted in some assumedly festive time lapse) by recipient brother Drew played by Sunil Vernekar on the other.
“It has been a real bitch of a year…” the letter begins. “Blake started drinking and entered a stranger’s house seeking a place to urinate. …the owner of the house was a bad shot and missed all major organs. …Our enchanting daughter who scored so perfectly on her SATs forgot to use birth control (and got knocked up by her college professor)…and our youngest baby came out on facebook.”
Drew’s wife, Kate, played by Kendaly Shimer realizes this last portion of the letter makes sense as she exclaims to her husband, “Remember, the last time we saw him, he was talking about that ‘Glee’ show!”
The letter goes on to discuss Ralph the family dog who continues to provide copious “drool and rotten odors” and briskly culminates by lamenting the wife’s menopause as strolls with her and the dog involve removal of nearly all articles clothing by the time they’ve reached their destination and are an otherwise “hormonally charged minefield.”
In light of such romanticism, (and who of us wouldn’t be inspired by it) Raelyn holds up a big ball of mistletoe as the lights dim for set change and offers to be the audience’s “Dodger Stadium Kiss Cam” as she holds the ball above any unassuming and assuming unsuspecting and suspects and sings an apt rendition of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”
In Rosie, the Retired Rockette by Daniel Guyton, Rosie, played by a very humorous and diverse Bette Smith is, in her mind, still a Rockette. Her daughter Dawn and two teenage granddaughters played respectively and sympathetically by Laura Rosas, Lucy Liljegren and Lucy Angelo bring Rosie Christmas dinner. Though all three are aware of grandma’s out-of-touch mindset, once Dawn leaves the room, Rosie thoroughly lets loose on her granddaughters in a mistaken attempt to bond with them as fellow Rockettes. Amidst contemporary admissions of high school boyfriends and academic subject matter of interest, Rosie gregariously interjects the following, “Have you girls gotten laid yet? Tina Valentine, the dark skinned girl will tease you endlessly if you haven’t. …I can see why Russell hired you. He’s always liked the young ones…(but) don’t sleep with Russell, he won’t buy you dinner afterwards.”
She inspires the girls to dance, after which she seems to suffer a mild dizzy spell, “I gotta sit down suddenly. I feel ill. Oh, God I hope I’m not pregnant. …I knew one of these boys would get me pregnant.”
“Did you know Grandma had sex with sailors?”
The play culminates when Dawn re-enters. She insists on making her mother aware that she is no longer a Rockette and that it is Christmas 2013 to which Rosie can only protest, “It’s not Christmas, it’s just another goddamned work day for me.” The granddaughters attempt to get Dawn to stop her strident efforts to slip her mother back to the present but Dawn can only insist that “No, she knows…” (somewhere deep down she knows and understands and you just have to get her attention). Dawn is successful at snapping her mother back into reality at which point she can merely observe, “Dawn…Dawn you look so old. How did that happen?” to which Dawn can only reply a relieved and tickled “Thank you” leaving them all at liberty to enjoy a contemporary family dinner.
I’ll be Home for Brisket by Mark Harvey Levine explores how nearly every Christmas/Holiday carol got its title as Joseph knocks on the door of the residence of Mary Magdalene, Lazarus and Martha only to tell them “My wife just had a baby in a manger and I need to heat up this brisket.” The weather outside is inclement (“frightful” actually) forcing Joseph to hang his socks up by the fire. Lazarus confesses the family’s “hoe” is broken (pun intended towards Mary—Oh yes, yes just a little) and in light of the fact that Joseph is a carpenter, could he fix it, or make them a new one? A tree is brought in from outside from which to cull the wood, whereupon Joseph works his magic but not before a Roman census taker interrupts his invention followed somewhat randomly by a little drummer boy (“Come they told me.”)
After all is said and done it is discovered that, not only has Joseph created an entirely new hoe, he has made a variety of wooden toys all the while. He hands Mary, Martha and Lazarus his wares as Martha hands Joseph the heated Brisket. Joseph then declares as he slips out of sight, “Okay, if you kids can be good, I’ll come back the same time next year.” Giving each a sample as he lopes out the door can further be heard exclaiming, “Mary’s Brisket…Mary’s Brisket to you.” (All a little forced and attenuated for my taste as snow makes no sense in that part of the world, the Brisket seemed rather random and I was never aware that Joseph had any parallel relation to ol’ Saint Nick, but a valiant effort nonetheless and the audience seemed to enjoy it…)
Raelyn breaks into “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” just as the lights come up on the last piece of the evening, Mel’s Hanukkah Surprise. Director Trace Oakley, portraying Mel himself, looks like the antithesis of Santa Claus as he lies nearly supine on an upright couch in a garish orange and blue jogging suit, large, thick-rimmed *old guy* glasses, sporting a most droopy expression that might be confused with death. Son Jerry enters and tries to wake him. When he is unsuccessful, he panics—at first–then rues the day Mel will ruin his Hanukkah again! “Pops did you have to die tonight? Why should I let you ruin our night, the first Hanukkah in our new house?…You were one lousy father, you never bought me a Hanukkah present I liked…”
In the midst of this tirade, Mel wakes up to a shocked Jerry. (“What do you want?) “I have a little trouble waking up. (They say it’s hereditary.)” Then, as an afterthought, “I’ll give you a Hanukkah present. I’ll go into the kitchen, take a knife and stab myself in the heart!” after which it is determined that they all have two things to celebrate, Mel’s continuing life and Jerry’s promotion garnering him a raise of $150,000.00.
(150,000?) “Do you know how many suits I would have to clean…in order to make that kind of money?”
“Dad you were in the jewelry business…”
The play concludes with Mel saying he wishes to further not ruin Jerry’s Hanukkah and impending party before the guests arrive, by telling Jerry and his wife that he is going to bed but that he will take them both to breakfast in the morning, his treat. Doesn’t sound so bad to me…
Just as the guests arrive and the doorbell rings, Jerry falls down on to the couch in a near narcoleptic state, only to frustrate his wife no end as she fails to wake him and the guests bemusedly wait behind the door—an additional Hanukkah gift from Jerry’s father—a gift that will keep on giving and that has come much, much too soon…and is most poetically worse than all the others…
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