Thursday, December 15, 2022

Review of "Christmas on the Rocks" - Theaterworks Hartford

It’s been a few years since I ventured out to Theaterworks Hartford’s annual December production, Christmas on the Rocks.  I’m happy to report that it is still a comedic delight.  For the uninitiated, the 100 minute, intermissionless show consists of eight short playlets by seven writers.  Each vignette takes a decidedly off-beat riff on such holiday classics as the movies “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story” and the cartoons “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  The Elf on the Shelf makes an appearance as does an older, world-weary Charlie Brown.  The whimsical tales take place at a corner bar that has seen better days.  The proprietor, Isaac, gamely interacts with each of the characters that invade his pub on a quiet Christmas Eve.


Each scene, which sometimes borders on bawdy, raunchy humor, has its moments of amusement, with many triggering howls of laughter.  The first four of the storylines were entertaining and brought smiles to my face:  “A Miserable Life,” by Jacques Lamarre, focuses on an adult ZuZu Bailey who is freaked out by the sound of bells. “All Grown Up,” written by John Cariani, introduces us to Ralphie and his peculiar attraction to pink fluffy objects. “My Name Is KAREN!,” by Jenn Harris & Matthew Wilkas, spotlights an older, semi-psychotic Karen and her unhealthy relationship with Frosty. “Say It Glows,” by Jeffrey Hatcher, merrily flips through the gay elf Hermey’s frosty relationship with Rudolph. 


However, the latter half of the show is the production’s strength.  “Snitch,” by Jenn Harris, is a hilarious homage to every child’s fear - the all-knowing Elf on a Shelf.  “Drumsticks and Chill,” penned by Judy Gold and Jacques Lamarre, successfully combines the telling of the Hanukah story by a half-baked Little Drummer Boy with a serious note on anti-semitism.  The hilarity of “Still Nuts About Him,” by Edwin Sánchez, is courtesy of the actress Jen Cody who’s comedic nuttiness and acrobatics as Clara from The Nutcracker, brings down the house.  “Merry Christmas, Blockhead,” by Jacques Lamarre, has always been my favorite.  An older, seemingly defeated Charlie Brown comes into the bar to bare his soul. What begins as a very humorous scene turns poignant and hopeful.  


Christmas on the Rocks is powered by three very talented performers.  Ted Lange, known for his long time role on TV’s The Love Boat, plays the unwitting bartender. The actor, with his laid back manner and impish grin, is the perfect straight man who welcomes the assorted characters into his modest establishment.  Harry Bouvy and Jen Cody, rotate through every scene, playing all the zany roles.  They are both superb performers.  Bouvey is wonderfully adept playing multiple types of characters - a down-on-his luck former child movie star, a stoner musician, an over-the-top very merry elf, and the epitome of woefulness, Charlie Brown himself.  Jen Cody brings a unique physicality to all her roles.  She is a fearless performer and gifted comedic talent whose antics cascade into waves of laughter from the audience.   


Director Rob Ruggiero assuredly guides the show he conceived and has staged for the past ten years.  One scene flows comfortably into the next on the quaint, richly detailed set designed by Michael Schweikardt.  Since I last saw the play, Ruggiero has expanded the use of technology, incorporating video projections, which enhance some of the scenes.  He has also added simple, but highly effective sight gags such as the cartoonish gait of Charlie Brown.  John Lasiter’s clever Lighting Design bolsters a number of the stories.  Alejo Vietti’s Costume Design and J. Jared Janas’s Wig Design provide splendid visual cues. 


Christmas on the Rocks, a worthy, different kind of holiday treasure, playing at Theaterworks Hartford through December 23.  Click here for information on tickets, dates and times.

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