By Daniel Skora
What with flying reindeer, elves that make toys in a place so remote that even FedEx doesn’t pick up, and a red-suited fat guy who breaks into people’s homes by sliding down their chimneys, the secular celebration of Christmas is one easy institution to poke fun at. You only have to listen to Christmas music to come to the conclusion that there’s something really weird about this holiday. There’s a snowman that smokes a pipe and breathes through a button nose, six geese a laying somehow achieving status as an acceptable gift to a loved one, and the famously flamboyant flaming figgy pudding (as seen in the Harry & David catalogue) passing muster as a dessert you really want to serve your guests. Couple all of this holiday craziness with the nonsensical character of English humour and you’ll get a good idea of what “An Almost British Christmas”, the current presentation of Theatre Nova in Ann Arbor, is all about.
The show, written by Carla Milarch and The Theatre Nova Ensemble, is a parody of the story of that most famous of misfits, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The storyline of Ruddy (renamed to sidestep the copyright lawyers) and his celebrated phosphorescent proboscis has been gently lifted from the classic 1964 Rankin/Bass animated TV special and turned on its head to play much like an episode of The Benny Hill Show. It features Jennifer Graham, Vicki Morgan, and Wayne David Parker playing a variety of characters from the show. There’s Rudolph, Sam the Snowman (the TV Special’s narrator, voiced by Burl Ives), Mrs. Santa Claus, Hermey, the shy elf who wants to become a dentist, Yukon Cornelius, and the Abominable Snowman. The show has a little bit of everything: pantomime, original songs, audience participation, a candy toss for the children, and a sidebar entertainment by a different guest artist every show making music or telling a story.
The show is campy, physical, and for the adults, peppered with some double entendres which, incidentally, might provide an explanation for why the straight-laced Rudolph’s nose turns red. Parker contributes his usual brand of take-no-prisoners comedy, engaging in a quantity of pratfalls that would make a lesser man refuse to get up. And what’s British comedy without a man in drag? Parker is up to the task, decked out in a vibrant red gown and a headpiece that would be the envy of Carmen Miranda.
R. MacKenzie Lewis penned the original tunes, of which the “Christmas Polka” adds additional international flavor to the show. Direction is by Carla Milarch, scenic and tech direction by Daniel C. Walker. The prominent pole that’s always there on the Yellow Barn stage to prevent the ceiling from succumbing to the forces of gravity has been put to good use for this production. It’s been turned into a candy cane stick, becoming a much needed prop for the action sequences. The show’s closing scene plays like a Benny Hill chase scene, with Rudolph, Mrs. Claus, and the Abominable Snowman pursuing each other over every inch of the theatre that is not otherwise occupied, accompanied by the lively sounds of Hill’s theme song, “Yakety Sax”.
“An Almost British Christmas” is for children, both the little and the big kind, because if you can’t be a kid at Christmastime, you’re never, ever going to be allowed back into Toyland, 65 inch plasma TV’s and Pandora Bracelets notwithstanding. The show runs through December 20th. For tickets and information, visit Theatre Nova’s website at www.theatrenova.org or call 734.635.8450. Theatre Nova, the little theatre with a big heart, is located at 416 W. Huron Street tucked away in the Yellow Barn a stone’s throw off the road in downtown Ann Arbor.