The members of the Common Basis Theatre Writer’s Workshop were inspired to pen a series of short plays revolving around the holidays. And while only a few of the pieces are truly inspired or deal directly with the holidays, the evening was a pleasant if uneven escape from the frenzied shopping and rampant merrymaking that usually accompanies the Yuletide season.
First up was The Light Downtown, by Chris Elliot, a modern-day take on the nativity scene. Marie (Margaret Gavin) and Joe (Robert Branigan), two downtown residents with low income and a newborn child, get a visit from three high-tech magi-men (Kurt Williams, Jacob Hawkins, and Victor L. Burt). The play starts off promising enough, but the mysterious magi only make things murky. Director Lawrence Frank got points for maintaining a poignant tone despite the script’s shortcomings.
On Virgin Gorda is from writer-director Judy Bissel, and unfortunately it’s even murkier than the preceding piece. A fancy resort is the setting for an unlikely encounter between a vacationing couple and a brash female dentist. The resulting confrontation does little to put one in the Christmas spirit. Angela Hayden, Michael Roche, Ann McAtee, Lloyd Price, and John Defate were believable but deserved better material.
Midnight is Another Day, by Marc Simon, is far from believable, but at least it uses its New Year’s Eve tie-in to good advantage. A waitress (Leah Reynolds) is closing up when a last-minute customer (playwright Simon) arrives. He turns out to be her late sister’s beau, who is now interested in her. Despite the fact that he is being completely inappropriate and she is obviously reluctant to accept his affection, they end up kissing passionately at the stroke of midnight. Under Robert Haufrecht’s direction, Simon at least acted with a degree of credibility. Reynolds was much more successful, giving a natural and unaffected performance.
Ho, Ho, Ho is a strange update on the Scrooge-Cratchit office scene. Angela Hayden pits grumpy Miss Charlotte (Judy Bissel) against foreign personal assistant Emma (author Hayden). The short sketch ends with a dark-humored happy ending of sorts. Both actresses performed well together, and the scene got its share of laughs.
Spending Christmas With Claire is no one’s idea of holiday fun. Lloyd Price has crafted a one-woman show based on a Christmas family dinner gone horribly wrong, with comic results. Linda Creamer portrayed the title character with energy and wit, reacting to her unseen guests and their outbursts with shrinking levels of hospitality.
Conversely, Christmas in New York by Norma Francis Simon is a painful visit with two Ohio tourists to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mother Meryl (Marcia Haufrecht) and son Dominic (Michael Roche) are not enjoying themselves, however, since a younger sibling is missing. The fact that the pair choose to wait patiently for the girl to return, rather than frantically try to track her down, is the main problem with this quirky play. Director David Grand at least created a familiar family dynamic between Haufrecht and Roche.
Last on the Xmas list of short works is Soccer Legs, which has nothing to do with the holidays and is so weird it almost defies description. Linda Creamer has taken risks with her script, but they don’t come together to make a whole play. The ensemble of Stefanie Schmiderer, Ron Moreno, Lou Cordova, and Robert Branigan were capable performers given outrageous tasks. Robert Stevens stages the piece with determination, but couldn’t shed much light on its meaning.
The technical support was uncredited, but worthy of mention were the music interludes, the ever-present Christmas tree, and the brave appearances of sign-bearing actors announcing each new scene.
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Copyright 2002 Elias Stimac