By Karen Isaacs
Hartford theater goers have had two annual Christmas productions for a decade or more: Hartford Stage’s A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story and TheaterWorks’ Xmas on the Rocks.
This year, there is only Christmas on the Rocks which is streaming through Dec. 31.
The show is a series of short playlets – 10 minutes or so each joined together with the premise that those child characters in holiday books, films and TV shows have now grown up. Most of these ended on an up-beat note. But what really happened afterwards?
Different playwrights created a series of short scenes – many of them mainly monologues. And along the way they added in not only humor but lessons of how we go on and how we can always recapture the optimism of youth.
It is set in what is described as “a local bar in a lonely corner of the cosmos, Christmas Eve.” This is your typical run-down neighborhood bar, worn and out of date. The bartender is switching between Christmas films on TV as the bar is empty. A clever touch to set is the items that recall the work – from Tiny Tim’s cane to the famous leg lamp.
In the year of Covid, the bartender is only heard and the camera is positioned as if it were the face of him. So the characters talk directly to us. His voice is that of Ted Lange who played the role last year. Lange some will remember was the bartender on The Love Boat.
So who do we meet? Ralphie from A Christmas Story and Tiny Tim of course. Then there’s Clara from The Nutcracker and three that are lesser known: Hermie from the TV cartoon Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, ZuZu, one of the Bailey children in It’s a Wonderful Life and Karen who supposedly created Frosty in the TV version.
Most of these characters have been traumatized in some way – ZuZu is obsessed hearing bells, and Karen is a self-absorbed social media personality.
Jenn Harris has played all the female roles for several years and she is back. Her performances have always been “over-the-top” – a little too antic and loud. Her characters are all unbalanced in some way, but her performance leave little room for building to a climax. In this filmed production (it was filmed at TheaterWorks using the original set), there is even more need for some subtlety, which is missing.
Rather than one actor playing the all the male roles, three of the actors have returned. Randy Harrison is Ralphie and Tiny Tim, with Matthew Wilkes as Hermie and Harry Bouvy as Charlie Brown. Each puts his spin on the characters. Overall their performances are more restrained than Harris’s.
When you need some cynicism, but not too much, Christmas on the Rocks, is just the ticket. Visit TWHartford.org for tickets.