Sunday, December 1, 2013

Xmas Unplugged—Artists Rep—SW Portland



Christmas Spirit…The Hard Way

Two one-acts, for your holiday consumption, are presented through December 29th at their location on SW Alder St. & 16th Ave.  The first offering is The Reason for the Season by Matt Pelfrey and directed by Rusty Tennant.  The second is The Night Before Christmas by Anthony Neilson and directed by Louanne Moldovan.  For more information, go to www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

Remember hanging those wee stockings on the fireplace mantle…and the delicious aroma of gingerbread cooking in the oven…and the gentle tap, tap of reindeer hoofs on the rooftop—well throw all those images out the window, for this Christmas Spirit is of a harsher variety!  It aligns itself closer with Bill Murray’s Scrooged, or if Rambo were playing Santa.  These shows are leaner, meaner and definitely not for the kiddies.

The first story has Deanna (Foss Curtis) and her husband, James (Chris Murray), being poor, trying to create a traditional Christmas atmosphere for their child.  Being out of work, they talk about re-gifting and giving gift certificates to friends, instead of taking the time to shop for something special.  They are so hungry they eat the “magic” cookies (Ed.’s note—in my day, this delectable would have a different meaning then here…or does it?) that have been left out for Santa.   

Neither are in a particularly good mood and, perhaps, a bit tipsy, when they hear the rumblings of someone in their chimney.  Yes, it’s the jolly fat man (Steve Coker) with goodies in his bag for the family.  Only one thing missing…his “magic” cookies have already been eaten.  So, no cookies, no presents, that’s the rule.  So, back up the chimney he goes, or attempts to.  The couple has other plans for him.

They attempt sweet talk, sad stories and even argue with The Man to leave them something for their child, at least.  But, when all that fails to win his support, they resort to the basics—violence.  A comic battle ensues.  For the next several minutes they go at it hand and hoof…er, foot.  I won’t give away the climax, but let’s just say that the color red takes on a whole different meaning this Christmas.

The set (for both shows) by Wilkerson is terrific.  They are given the semblance of the settings for the stories and also allow plenty of playing room for the actors.  And director, Tennant, has one super fight scene that is both inventive and must be exhausting, for the actors, but is quite effective.  Also the music/sound (for both shows) by Rodolfo Ortega^ seems quite appropriate for the given circumstances.

And the couple are nicely played by Curtis and Murray and the comic timing by all three is spot on.  Curtis being particularly effective in her monologues, which are both comic and sad at the same time.  Well done.  And Coker, as a very practical, no-nonsense Santa, is outstanding.  His down-to-earth view of the world is strangely refreshing and his desire for the “magic” cookies, oddly familiar.  Top-rate, Kris K.!

The second show, story-wise, is a better script, as it allows for more development of the characters.  This is set in a warehouse in England.  Simon (Steve Coker) and Gary (Chris Murray) run some sort of shady operation out of their warehouse, probably dealing with stolen goods, drugs and prostitution.  At the opening of the story, it seems that Gary has captured a burglar, who turns out to be one of Santa’s elves (Jill Westerby) that has fallen off the sleigh.  (Yeah, another Christmas, mythical character reduced to an earthly level).

Being that the elf can tell no lies, they discover some of the secrets of these Northern inhabitants.  It seems that the Christmas Spirit is actually a powder that is blown into the air at this time of year.  Children are affected the most, as they have not lost their innocence.  But, with adults, it has little effect.  Unfortunately the “powder” is addictive, if you’re around it all the time, so elves are particularly vulnerable, and withdrawal is not a pretty sight.  (See any resemblance to the “magic” cookies of the previous show)? 

And the reason they can do everything in one night, is because they live at a slower rate of speed and, thus, can zip into and out of our time without being detected.  Into this merry, madcap mix-up enters Cherry (Luisa Sermol) one of the gang’s “employee’s.”  They all decide that, for the elf to be released, he must prove his magical abilities.  He agrees to grant each of them one wish.  I don’t want to reveal much more of the plot but, suffice to say, magic might just be in “the eye of the beholder.”  And the last wish has quite an unselfish and touching result.

Moldovan has kept the play sailing at a good clip and keeps the actors on the move, as it is a bit of a talky show.  The only comment I would add to that, is that the accents are so thick at times, they become unintelligible.  And a Brit friend of mine mentioned that both the Elf and Simon seemed to have the best command of their dialects and were the clearest in speech.

Again, Coker is exceptional.  He gives us a man that has a brittle exterior but seems to have a marshmallow heart.  A sensitive performance.  Hopefully we will not be seeing the last of this actor.  And Westerby is dynamite.  You totally believe her as a rather homely, awkward, misfit, male elf and is, in reality, a very attractive, young lady.  That why they call it…“acting.”  A super performance also!

I do recommend these shows but they are adult in language and in subject.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.