Wreck the Halls

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, as theater companies everywhere serve up warmed-over seasonal standards to bolster their bottom lines. But hark! This holiday season, four local companies are taking risks to cut through the treacle.

By Jonathan Frochtzwajg November 21, 2013 Published in the December 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

Bag&Baggage Productions—Thru Dec 23 at the Venetian Theatre

DECEMBER IS ALREADY the darkest time of the year, astronomically speaking—but for theater folks, the horizon looks particularly bleak, as Scrooge and the Mouse King stage a hostile takeover of the theater calendar. “When you talk to actors about what they’re doing at Christmas, they all go, ‘Ugh, I’m doing A Christmas Carol,’ or, ‘Oh God, I have to dance in The Nutcracker,’” sighs Bag&Baggage artistic director Scott Palmer. “One more adorable 7-year-old saying, ‘God bless us, every one,’ and I’m going to kill myself.” Palmer’s original adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life is a metatheatrical critique of this winter hinterland, framing the holiday TV staple within a story about jaded voice actors in a 1940s radio production of Frank Capra’s Christmas classic. Read our full review


Artists Repertory Theatre—Thru Dec 29

FOR HIS FIRST HOLIDAY SEASON as Artists Repertory Theatre’s new artistic director, Dámaso Rodriguez shunned roasted old chestnuts in favor of a double helping of spiked contemporary work. “I think of these as legitimate plays that happen to be set on Christmas Eve,” he says. First up is a world-premiere production of Matt Pelfrey’s The Reason for the Season, a one-act about a couple who hold Kris Kringle captive to negotiate over their kid’s gifts. After intermission comes the notoriously dark British playwright Anthony Nielsen’s The Night Before Christmas, which has nothing to do with the poem and stars a junkie claiming to be an elf. “It’s Miracle on 34th Street meets Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,” says Rodriguez. Read our review. 

Bad Reputation Productions, CoHo Theater—Thru Dec 21 

SINCE STARTING BAD REPUTATION in 2010, local funny-woman Shelley McLendon has given the ’80s Patrick Swayze vehicle Road House and teen-vampire flick The Lost Boys the Bad Rep treatment—that is, performed their screenplays on stage more or less straight, letting their so-bad-it’s-good comedy speak for itself. Now, McLendon puts Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer in her affectionately mocking crosshairs. The cherished 1964 stop-motion-animated movie has sentimental value for McLendon: “When it comes on,” she says, “I can feel for a few seconds how I did about Christmas when I was in first grade.” But that won’t stop her, along with local comedians Michael Fetters, Jon Breen, and Jed Arkley and Portland Mercury editor Wm. Steven Humphrey, from ridiculing the film at its unintentionally funniest— Island of Misfit Toys, anyone?

Portland Center Stage, Gerding Theater at the Armory—Thru Dec 22

IF ANY LOCAL THEATER COMPANY understands that there’s demand in Portland for nontraditional Christmas shows, it’s Portland Center Stage: this is the fifth consecutive year the company is presenting David Sedaris’s caustic The Santaland Diaries. “The thing just keeps going,” says PCS artistic director Chris Coleman. “Maybe Portlanders want something sideways and snarky at Christmas.” Coleman tests that hypothesis further this holiday season by bringing famed improv group Second City’s rendition of A Christmas Carol to PCS’s main stage. Each performance of Twist Your Dickens is roughly 30 percent improvisation and features revolving local guests—but Coleman claims he isn’t nervous. “I think it’ll be fun,” he says, “but I’m sure there will be a fair amount of hysteria.” Read our review.


For more Christmas shows and events, see our comprehensive holiday guide.

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