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12/9/2009

The Arts

Every Christmas Story Ever Told

 

Jiggle all the way
Every Christmas Story Ever Told
Through Dec. 27 at Orlando Shakespeare Theater,
812 E. Rollins St.; 407-447-1700
www.orlandoshakes.org
$14-$38

There was only one Christian family in the Jewish neighborhood in which I grew up, so my memories of this holiday begin and end with candy canes at the Ansons’, two doors down. I was thankful that Christmas coincided with a long school vacation, but otherwise, I never had an emotional attachment to the day itself or what it represented theologically.

Of course, I did imbibe all the Christmas specials on TV and always felt that the season’s songs were snappy and singable. Years later, as a well-paid department store Santa Claus, I began to appreciate the day’s crass commercial aspects, and finally, after marrying into a non-Jewish family, I went the whole nine yards – presents, trees, stockings by the fireplace, etc.

Happily, the production of Every Christmas Story Ever Told at Orlando Shakespeare Theater caters to nonbelievers and longtime revelers alike, presenting a look both sarcastically skewed and affectionate at the special celebration that holds such a singular place on our national calendar.

Under the direction of Jim Helsinger, three of the company’s stalwarts – Paul Kiernan, Mark Lainer and Timothy Williams – hold court regaling us with truncated and prodigiously silly versions of tried-and-true Christmas tales, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Nutcracker Suite, Frosty the Snowman, O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi and Gustav the Green-nosed Reingoat(!?), among others.

There are side trips to NYC to see the Rockettes and the parade, and educational highlights include the history of fruitcake plus strange Christmas customs in countries around the globe. Fortunately, the loosey-goosiness of Michael Carleton, John Alvarez and Jim Fitzgerald’s script allows for a good dose of satirical ad-libbing. Snide remarks about current events – holiday-related or otherwise – pepper the proceedings throughout.

The highlight of the evening is the extremely amusing conflation of two of our culture’s best-loved Christmas narratives – Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Watching comedic actor Williams ricochet between the characters of Ebenezer Scrooge and George Bailey, with Lainer playing both the angel Clarence and the Ghost of Christmas something-or-other is one of this – or, for that matter, any – season’s great comic gifts.

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