December 6, 2014

Rarely Done's 'Christmas 2' reassembles the holiday

By Tony Curulla | Contributing writer

"Christmas 2: It's a Wonderful Nativity" by Jeff Goode is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for those who find making coarse fun of something like Christmas, that bridges serious religious tradition with the major secular holiday, unappealing at best or quasi-sacrilegious at worst. In keeping with their mission to present rarely produced, often edgy, and even iconoclastic theater, Rarely Done Productions has mounted another Jeff Goode piece that not only smashes through some of the traditional aspects and beliefs surrounding Christmas, but also provides plenty of laughs and plain out-of-sync tomfoolery. If you were lucky enough to see their production a few seasons ago of another Jeff Goode piece, "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues", you've been primed for another Goode shakedown of our most tradition-filled holiday. Also, if you're tired of the same old, same old a la Hallmark Channel's typical sweet treatment of the holiday season, "Christmas 2 "is guaranteed to spice up and even test your funny bone.

With 11 cast members playing even more roles, many of which are outrageous, director Dan Tursi might have employed a whip and chair during rehearsals in order to fashion a product that, seemingly anyway, has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

With borrowings from the Bible, Dickens' "Christmas Carol", and Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life", as well as secular symbols from Christmas trees to seasonal colors, Goode's play goes headlong into dissembling the ties that bind us to the holiday season. No religious tradition escapes whipping here either, in that Jewish references from menorahs and dreidels to the correct pronunciation of Hanukkah are held up for examination.

Even though Goode centers his premise around a confused, even bumbling, Jesus (Daryl Acevedo) searching for his origins some thirty years after his birth, there is nary a character in the play who doesn't get considerable "face time" to air her/his complaints and problems.

"High" on the "fun meter", however, is a drunk angel (Anne Fitzgerald), who opens the show, bottle in hand, looking for the next happy event to celebrate. Fitzgerald is terrific as the lone celebratory voice as she glides along the stage replete with goofy looking wings and an even goofier, alcohol-induced faŤade.

Maggie (Jodie Baum), Jesus' very pregnant wife, is an obvious reference to the whole theory (popularized especially by "The DaVinci Code") that Jesus might have been married to Mary Magdalene a known prostitute, who also bore his children. Baum's Maggie cuts a wide swath with overburdened costuming more appropriate for the expectation of quintuplets as she moves about barking orders at her husband before a visit from his mother, Virgin Mary (Patricia Catchouny).

Catchouny runs away with the plum role in the play. The "Jewish mother" role has possibly never been taken to such comical extremes on stage. Full of regrets, recriminations, disappointments, and accusations, Catchouny lambastes everything from her son's wife being a whore, to her oft-repeated criticism of his not becoming a "real" doctor instead of a veterinarian (We learn that Jesus had not inherited any of Joseph's talent for woodworking, as evidenced by an hilarious tie rack he had made when he was a boy, and so had pursued a career in veterinary medicine!).

Shannon Tompkins provides plenty of innocent fun as a blind shepherd whose character is further enriched with cartoonish movements and facial expressions, especially when holding discourse with a sheep (Zach Siracuse) as if it were an everyday event.

Alan Stillman is cast perfectly as the Orient King, fastidious in appearance, who worries that the gifts of the other two kings might overshadow his as his Queen (Michaela Oney) chews on him to get a grip and a life.

Thomas Nacy Warner's wise Santa provides the worrisome Jesus with incite by providing flashbacks, a la Dickens with a dash of Capraesque sentimentality, into what life might have been like had he not been born.

Further disorientation occurs when John the Baptist (Josh Taylor) makes several appearances with a platter attached to his neck as he scurries around the stage warning of the threats of the Romans. Derek Potacki does nice work providing dry irony as the singular Roman.

If this reviewer's summation and commentary seems somewhat scattered, disorienting, and disconnected, you should see the show!

Details: Length of Performance: 2 hours, 30 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission. Attendance: A near capacity, delighted audience. Family Guide: Adult humor and references. Social and religious commentary that might offend.

Rarely Done Productions presents "Christmas 2: It's a Wonderful Nativity" from December 5 to 20 at Jazz Central, 441 E. Washington St., Syracuse. For times, tickets, and information: 315-546-3224 and email: