Review: ART’s ‘Xmas Unplugged’

Two one acts skewer the dark reality that Christmas is often more about spending money on presents than spending time with each other. Who knew Santa fight scenes could go on too long? Thru Dec. 28

By Haley Martin December 5, 2013

Foss Curtis, Steve Coker, and Chris Murray in 'Reason for the Season.'

Image: Owen Carey

It seems like every year, there’re reports that someone was trampled to death as a mob fought its way into Walmart or some other big box store on Black Friday (with its new partner, Gray/Brown Thursday). In a mere 12 or so hours, we go from a day dedicated to giving thanks to a day fighting a stranger over an Elmo doll or Playstation whatever. It’s gotten so bad that the Onion skewered it this year with the article “42 Million Dead in Bloodiest Black Friday Weekend on Record.” Is this what the holiday spirit has come to?

In a double bill holiday production dubbed Xmas Unplugged, Artist Repertory Theater skewers this sad, shameful reality that Christmas is often more about spending money on presents than spending time with each other.

In its world premiere, The Reason for the Season by Matt Pelfrey, resident playwright at LA’s Furious Theatre, features a bitter young couple (Foss Curtis and Chris Murray) on Christmas Eve struggling to provide gifts for their son. When Santa (Steve Coker) pops out of the chimney into their living room, he refuses to leave presents because no one left him the requisite “magic cookies.” (Mrs. Clause protocol: No cookies, no presents). Filled with rage, the couple holds Santa hostage, and a grotesque battle ensues for the remainder of the play. Wedgies and head-butting escalate to strangling via tinsel, water boarding, and bloodshed.

Directed by Rusty Tennant, The Reason for the Season is sardonic and pessimistic, focusing not on Christmas miracles, but materialistic gluttony. Curtis as the wife delivers some genuinely comic monologues. But the script falls short towards the end, and like never-ending Christmas special, we wish the cheesy stage fighting lasted only half as long as it does.

For the second act, British playwright Anthony Neilson’s The Night Before Christmas makes its Northwest debut with an equally twisted spirit, addressing the common question that comes with age: “Is it me that’s changed, or is it Christmas?”

Xmas Unplugged: The Reason for the Season /
The Night Before Christmas

Artists Repertory Theatre
Thru Dec. 29
Jaded by long work hours and general adulthood woes, two shady warehouse employees kidnap a Christmas elf, demanding some of his “Christmas feeling”—that is, an addictive powder that induces a child-like Christmas-time euphoria when inhaled. However, it turns out the elf is a junkie in withdrawal and has none to spare, so he offers them a wish each, leading to more fighting after one squanders his wish on a pack of cigs.

“It’s not until you’re an adult that you need Christmas miracles, but then all you get is pants and socks,” one worker says (the British accents tend to wobble throughout the show). They finally come to the revelation that: “Christmas is for children, but complete debauchery is ours.”

Jill Westerby as the battered elf junkie delivers one of the strongest performance of the bunch. This act, directed by Louanne Moldovan, is the better-written and more entertaining of the two, but sadly it still drags.

Outrageous in plot and dark in spirit, both plays manage to capture the greedy zeitgeist of the so-called “season of giving.” Aside from some laughs, this double-bill certainly won’t give you jolly holiday cheer, if that’s what you’re searching for. But if you’re like most struggling adults, it will justify your inner Scrooge and Christmastime cynicism. Just make sure to leave the kids at home.



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