- Greggory Moore
If you’re an American over 30 (or maybe even younger), a wintertime staple as you came of age was the Christmas special. Your take on Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and various versions of Santa Claus—not to mention how the Peanuts gang celebrated the holiday—was informed by the various animated and claymated half-hour classics.
Playwright Mark Harvey Levine always wanted to get in on the action—as well as to show Hanukkah some love—and now he has with the eight short plays that make up A Very Special Holiday Special. By turns campy, cute, and clever, ultimately Levine puts together enough funnybone tickles and amusing homage to make this a very serviceable way to get an injection of lite holiday fun.
Oy Vey Maria starts us off right with Jesus’s birth night. The three wise men are there, but they can’t get a word in edgewise because Mary’s parents won’t stop kvetching. “Jesus?” she whines, thinking they’d settled on ‘Myron’ for the child. “No-one’s going to remember that he’s Jewish!” They couldn’t even get a room at the inn. (The three wise men were wise enough to call ahead.) As will recur throughout the evening, dialog here reveals the supposed origins of many Christmas carols. “I only wanted to have a silent night,” Mary moans at the chaos that has ensued, such as the unwanted appearance of a little drummer boy, “a holy night!” Very cute.
The Light gets Hanukkah in the mix, as two Maccabees watch the lamp while a third goes to fetch oil, a trek that ends up taking far longer than expected. “How long does it take to get some oil?” one of the guards asks the other on the second day. “This is the Middle East. The stuff is pretty much coming up out of the ground.” Unlike the rest of the bunch, this one ends on a serious note. It’s a bit incongruous, but bonus points for a silly Samuel Beckett insertion.
I’ll Be Home for Brisket has Joseph from Oy Vey Maria showing up at the house of Mary Magdalene (“Hm,” she says flirtatiously as he mentions his wife, the Virgin Mary. “I’m just Mary”) and her little brother, a Jerry Lewis-like Lazarus, as he searches for somewhere to heat up the brisket his mother-in-law brought. Through a series of misadventures we witness the birth of numerous Xmas traditions, from trees and stockings to the name ‘Saint Nicholas’ and his yearly return.
A Very Special Hanukkah Special is a reworking of It’s a Wonderful Life, where Hanukkah-loving Murray finds that his wish to live in world where Hanukkah is bigger than Christmas may not be so wonderful after all. A lot of the puns in this one are rather predictable, but nothing unforgiveable.
Oh, Tannenbaum features Murray again, this time surprised to find that his Christmas tree (his wife is Catholic, so they celebrate both) can talk. And is Jewish! Murray learns that Christmas-tree tradition isn’t so merry from the tree’s point of view.
Best Present Ever finds a woman spending Christmas alone with her cat and dog, who can talk in a way intelligible only to the audience. This is the most unique play of the bunch. No puns or homage here, just a funny take on how people and pets relate to each other, with an unexpected bit of warmth to close it out.
For its part, You Better Watch Out makes the best societal comment, as the home of two Buddhists is invade by a militant squadron hell-bent on decorating these non-celebrators’ home (never mind that it’s the middle of August), a battleground they are trying to take in the war on Christmas they feel is being waged. “Happy holidays” is such anathema to them that they can barely bring themselves to refer to the epithet as “H.H.,” lest its full utterance mortally wounds them. A Pattonesque Santa saves the day.
Les Miserabelves is the Rudolph story by way of Les Miserables, right down to both solo and ensemble musical numbers. ‘Nuff said.
A total cast of seven manages to populate these eight plays with their many characters, and to a person their energy does not flag even momentarily. The transitions from one play to the next are smooth, and each role and play achieves just the tone Levine is sounding at any given moment. This may be low-budget theater, but the work the Little Fish cast and crew does is not on the cheap.
Although A Very Special Holiday Special is not the sort of humor that hits me where I live, the fact that I found as much to like about it as I did speaks well to this intersection of playwright and theatre company. Those whose tastes place them nearer the center of the Levine and Little Fish’s target demographic will almost certainly come away with a lot of big laughs and bellyful of holiday spirit.
A VERY SPECIAL HOLIDAY SPECIAL LITTLE FISH THEATRE • 777 CENTRE ST • SAN PEDRO 90731 • 310.512.6030 • LITTLEFISHTHEATRE.ORG • FRI-SAT 8PM (NO PERFORMANCE NOV 25), SUN 2PM (NO PERFORMANCE DEC 11); THURS DEC & 15 8PM; • $25-27; WITH DINNER $45 • THROUGH DECEMBER 17
(Photo credit: Mickey Elliott)