Dallas — At this time of year, it’s easy to be tired of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker or less than thrilled to hear another Handel’s Messiah. So if you’re looking for entertainment that’s a bit less traditional during the last week before Christmas, take in A Very Nouveau Holiday! Presented in the historic Margo Jones Theatre in the Magnolia Lounge at Fair Park, Nouveau 47 Theatre presents a series of 10-minute plays, linked only by the holiday season and how it’s celebrated, endured or abhorred.
Petty theft at the office party gift exchange, drunkenness, murder and elves wearing plastic Nixon masks may not seem like holiday themes but they all make appearances in the nine short works in this set, which takes its cue from the long-gone Ground Zero Theater Company, the group that birthed this idea more than a decade ago with its popular Christmas at Ground Zero. Some of the plays stretch the bounds of credibility, and there are a few awkward moments, but both writing and acting are mostly above par, and emotions ranging from pathos to ridiculousness keep the evening humming along.
The department store Santa, that fixture of the season, first appears in A Visit with St. Nick by Vicki Caroline Cheatwood. The play evokes the loss of innocence that adults can experience when they must accept that parents age, traditions fade and Santa is simply a tired man in a flimsy red suit.
Department Store Santa reappears in several guises during the production. There is the drunk Santa, the exhausted Santa, the belligerent Santa and the well-spoken, perfectly groomed, right out of a picture book version featured in the American Express Platinum Winter Wonderland in the final play, Santa Keeps it Real by Larry Herold.
Written by Kevin Kautzman, Clifton Mills brings us the atheist’s view of the Christmas holiday, and Jim Kuenzer’s New and Notable attempts to wrest the Bible into a more acceptable story for the masses.
Directed by Diana Gonzalez and Ruth Engel-McEntire and designed by the ensemble, A Very Nouveau Holiday! is a fairly Spartan production, augmented by solo artist John Michael as “himself. The precocious John Michael’s image appears on a large screen before each piece to introduce the play, or snarkily relate that he actually has no idea what it’s about. The commentary is entertaining and it’s a clever device, although a few technical glitches on opening night caused some problems with continuity.
The Nouveau 47 ensemble of Scott Milligan, Ana Gonzalez, Rebecca Mcdonald, Brian Witkowicz, Erin Singleton, Katy Kirkwood and Nic McMinn tackle the material with fervor. Each plays at least three roles, with McMinn valiantly taking on seven.
The actors each have strong moments, particularly in the more comedic plays. Singleton’s little drummer boy, belting out the song and pounding aimlessly on her drum as she is metaphorically stuck in Milligan’s head in Clifton Mills, is an inspired bit. McMinn’s transformation from the atheist Paul (Clifton Mills) who admits his secret love of Christmas lights to a speechifying President Nixon (in Ben Schroth’s Silver and Gold) is another highlight in a collection of plays that boasts many.
Witkowicz gets many of the department store Santa roles, whose energy hilariously seems inspired by Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa. He also scores as the title character in Brad McEntire’s Rudnick the Candle-Headed Boy (A Cheeky Retelling of a Certain Reindeer Myth).
Bring your mom (as long as she doesn’t mind quite a bit of blue language) or drag your loved one or create a decidedly untraditional tradition for the season. Hopefully this concept will return again next year.
The complete works are performed in this order:
- New and Notable by Jim Kuenzer
- A Visit with St. Nick by Vicki Caroline Cheatwood
- White Elephant or The Miracle of Christmas by Jonathan Norton
- Silver and Gold by Ben Schroth
- Traveler by Matthew Tomlanovich
- Hail Marys, Mothers of God by Donnie F. Wilson
- Clifton Mills by Kevin Kautzman
- Rudnick the Candle-Headed Boy (A Cheeky Retelling of a Certain Reindeer Myth) by Brad McEntire
- Santa Keeps it Real by Larry Herold