Monday, December 15, 2014

Miracle on 43rd St.:…—Bag & Baggage Theatre—Hillsboro, OR


A Kruely Krazy Khristmas

…A 1940’s Holiday Radio Massacre is, in part, based on the classic Christmas film, A Miracle on 34th St. by George Seaton and Valentine Davies and adapted and directed for the stage by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Artistic Director).  It performs at their space in the Venetian Theatre at 253 E. Main St. in downtown Hillsboro and runs through December 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org or call 503-345-9590.

This is labeled as a parody of the best filmed version of the story, with the award-winning, Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle.  The original movie is very touching.  This stage adaptation is very touchy in both content and physical comedy.  Half of the story follows, it seems, the actual script of the film.  The other half is the radio cast’s personal life smeared across the boards.

In case you’re one of two or three people that do not know the original story, I’ll give you a brief summary of it.  Once upon a time, it seems, there was this little girl who did not believe in Santa Claus.  So, when Macy’s had their annual Christmas display, she reluctantly sat on his lap and wished what she thought was an impossible wish, for a real home.  And, it seems, there was also some question from Macy’s as to whether their Claus was a few marbles short in the head.

So, there was a Great Trial to prove whether Santa Claus was sane and, was real.  And when children from all over discovered that Santa was jailed, where do you think they sent their letters?  The courthouse, of course, and since the Post Office is a branch of the Federal Government, as is the Court, then it is conclusive that Kris must be the real Santa, since he receives the letters.  And, oh, yes, the child does get her wish and, forever more, believes in the existence of the bearded wonder.  Amen.

This part of the show follows pretty faithfully the original script with the cast playing multiple characters.  But the real fun is discovering the secrets of their lives.  It seems the blustery station manager of the radio station, KBNB, Winston Whiteside (Gary Strong) has recently married a bouncy, buxom, beauty, Lana (Jessica Geffen), who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer.  It also seems they have hired a handsome, vain, screen idol, Donald Donaldson (Chase Fulton) for one of the parts, as well Felicity Fay Fitzpatrick (Clara Hillier), an equally vain, emoting, stage star, who just happens to be in the final stages of marriage to Donald.

Also on hand for the frivolity is their meek, handy, Foley artist, Peter (Branden McFarland) who always talks with his mouth full and who nobody seems to understand what he’s saying, except Felicity.  Go figure.  Then, an intruder with a gun, Tony (Luke Armstrong), a mobster and former boyfriend of Lana’s, decides he wants her back.  But, not so fast, an effeminate, off-duty policeman, Gilroy (Jeremy Sloan) arrives to watch how they do the show and gets rope into becoming one of the performers.

Complications arise when Peter earlier is accidently shot and killed by Tony, and so when the cop arrives, although they can’t tell him what happened, for fear of getting shot themselves, they definitely want to keep the law around until they get the upper hand.  So, of course, they must also keep Peter “alive” by animating him (like in Weekend At Bernie’s) and explaining to the officer that he is just “dead” drunk.  I don’t believe this is a spoiler alert because it happens fairly early in the story and much of the comedy centers around the “walking dead.”  Needless to say, they must also keep Tony occupied, so they enlist him into the script, as well, until they can formulate a plan of escape.

The main focus of this plot is the highly stylized, physical comedy that ensues which, for the most part, is very successful.  It is more like a well-choreographed dance than a normal play and that is its charm, all thanks to Palmer, the director.  The antics with the animated body were priceless and my favorite comedy bits.  Palmer is highly inventive with all his shows, especially in movement and this one is the cherry on top of a well-spiced cake!

This stylized approach may not be everybody’s cup of tea, as it is highly exaggerated in movements, gestures and expressions.  Hillier (ala, Gloria Swanson?) moves much like the silent movie stars with dance-like precision.  Geffen is a master of voice characters and her Judy Holliday/Jean Hagen dumb blonde, complete with high squeaky voice, are a perfect parody of those stars.  Fulton (ala, Leslie Howard?), as the matinee idol, has the right look for the role and plays it to the hilt.  And Armstrong, as the hit-man, gives us the typical, Robinson/Cagney/Bogart gangster impersonation of that era.

McFarland may have the most difficult part in the play, as he has to be “dead” most of the show but his physical flexibility is excellent and the mush-mouthed words a great bit.  Sloan is over-the-top in his picturing of the stereotypic gay, but would be considered politically incorrect in this age, although it was the norm in those days.  And Strong, as the ringmaster of this menagerie, is a comic wonder!  His comedic timing and movements are perfect and he is always an asset to all the shows I’ve seen him do at B&B.

Only shortfall I found with this production is what to watch, as the radio script is being performed on one side of the stage, and many, silent comedy bits with the corpse are played at the same time on the opposite side of the stage.  Both are very funny but, because of the staging, some of it is being missed.  I decided to listening to the “scripted” part, since I knew the story, and watching the mimed parts of the backstage antics for the most part.  Anyway, that how I solved the dilemma.

I would recommend this show but it may not be for everybody because of the adult humor.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.