Columbus Dispatch - November 22, 2002

Cabaret warms holiday season

Michael Grossberg, Theater Critic, The Columbus Dispatch

2Co's Cabaret captures the holiday spirit with Christmas at 2Co's. The well-chosen stories and songs brim with holiday emotions, with an apt emphasis on the fondly nostalgic and the amusingly sentimental.

All of the playlets and poems are monologues, allowing individual talents to shine.

Among the best at Wednesday's opening: Steve Guyer (Merry Christmas, Miss Pettigrew), Matthew Hahn (Dear Ed), Gail Richardson (Just the Two of Us and Back Home With Us for Christmas) and Ann L. Miller (Christmas Morning).

Guyer adopts a convincing rural accent for Merry Christmas, Miss Pettigrew, a charming story about a church pageant that goes awry. The farcical plot evokes a well-oiled Rube Goldberg machine, one accident leading to another.

Guyer, expert at delivering wry stories with a down-home charm, will play his rare stage role only for a week, then Chris Lynch (currently busy at Shadowbox Cabaret's Freak Show) will take over.

In one of his best roles, Hahn finds the joy and anguish in childhood and fatherhood. His double-edged story powerfully communicates the tragedy of love unexpressed and the triumph of love recalled.

Richardson scores in two brief roles, confirming her ability to generate humor and personality via textured understatement.

In Bill Allan's Back Home (a monologue in which she'll alternate with Rebecca Gentile), Richardson lovingly evokes the "frosted fruits,'' "promiscuous lights'' and other "Christmas frippery'' of a bustling department store in December.

In Two, she talks so convincingly to her husband about Christmas memories and desires that one almost imagines his presence onstage.

Miller brings a subtle splendor and thoughtful spirituality to Morning, a philosophical excerpt from Richard Paul Evans' The First Gift of Christmas.

Hollywood, flamboyantly delivered by Cardinal, is the funniest monologue. He plays a fey and tipsy reindeer (Prancer), transplanted to the cynical world of show business.

Some poems don't transfer well to the stage. Despite Carrie Lynn McDonald's strenuous efforts, Christ Climbed Down doesn't really work, perhaps partly because Lawrence Ferlinghetti's 1950s attack on holiday commercialism now seems outdated and false.

The troupe has developed a topnotch crew of mostly female singers, from McDonald (plangent in Please Come Home for Christmas and 2,000 Miles) to Pam Callahan (Father Christmas) and Cardinal (Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas).

But 2Co's new standout singer is clearly Kori Billiat, such a jazzy and sultry belter that she earned spontaneous applause for Merry Christmas, Baby. Billiat, also stellar in Silver Lining with Callahan, may be the company's happiest holiday gift to its growing audiences.

2Co's deft variety show deserves to be recommended for the broadest possible audience, but it can't without a few minor changes. If only the rare (and mostly gratuitous) profanity is cut, then this Christmas could fulfill its delightful promise.