Preposterous gift in `Christmas'

Theater Review

August 19, 2005|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

If you think believing in Santa is an innocent thing, think again. The little stories we tell our children can have serious consequences. That's the gist of Ron Holsey's The Best Christmas Murder Ever.

An unconventional Christmas play about an unconventional family, Holsey's drama is the gift of Uncommon Voices theater company to this year's Baltimore Playwrights Festival. As gifts go, it's a mixed blessing.

Indeed, just about everything about this play is mixed. As the title suggests, it is part Christmas story and part murder mystery. The set (an attractive three-level interior designed by Bush Greenbeck) features a cheery Christmas tree in one corner and a pair of pistols mounted ominously above the mantel. Then there's the character of Aunt Cardomom. The family member most dedicated to preserving the Christmas spirit, she's also a harridan.

The action focuses on a family whose members - adults and children alike - still believe in Santa Claus. Each year they gather at grandmother's house, stage a Christmas pageant for her benefit, then wait for Santa. The fact that he hasn't shown up in 14 years hasn't dimmed their faith, but it has given Cardomom a reason to bully her relatives about who's been naughty and who's been nice.

This year, however, a man does come down the chimney. Fourteen-year-old Nancy, a niece whom Cardomom detests, is the one who finds him. And, even though he's dressed in dirty, torn jeans, has a leg wound and carries a gun, Nancy is convinced he's St. Nicholas. (This part of the plot resembles Whistle Down the Wind, the failed 1996 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on a 1958 novel about a teenage girl who thinks a vagrant is Jesus.)

In an offhand style somewhat reminiscent of Jon Lovitz, Jim Page depicts the stranger - who conveniently calls himself "Nick" - with a combination of grit and bemused disbelief at the odd household in which he finds himself. "We like to get [the elves] liquored up and watch them wrestle," he tells Courtney Krimmel's Nancy when she bombards him with questions about the North Pole.

Director Miriam Bazensky's production gives off almost as many mixed signals as the script itself. Nancy Dall overplays Cardomom's witchlike, self-aggrandizing traits; Janise Bonds and Lisa Geyer deliver much more naturalistic portrayals of Cardomom's sisters.

Presumably The Best Christmas Murder Ever is intended to be a fable. Otherwise, a great deal of it is simply preposterous. Then again, it's also a fairly preposterous fable.

The Best Christmas Murder Ever

Where: Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, and 7 p.m. Sundays, through Aug. 28.

Tickets: $14

Call: 410-655-4826

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