April 20, 2014

Traditional Christmas stories told in a non-traditional way

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are gone, but the real deal this holiday season is “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)” at the Phoenix Stage Company in Naugatuck. 

Here is a little black box community theater that is presenting one of the funniest holiday shows around. Sure we’ve had sentimental Christmas stories, and some sardonic and musical holiday shows, too. This one, however, features great talents and  is just about as fun-filled as any Christmas story can get. 

Written by Michael Carleton, James Fitzgerald and John K. Alvarez, with original music by Will Knapp, this show makes  it impossible not to laugh out loud at the shenanigans perfectly directly by Tim Phillips and hilariously performed by Ed Bassett, Ian Diedrich, and Rob Richnavsky. These three popular actors have outdone themselves here. With facial expressions, voice impersonations, and body language that conveys exactly what they want to communicate to the audience, these three powerhouse performers make this holiday show a blockbuster hit. 

All three men have graced local stages with their talents before, but never with such fast-paced diversity. One minute they are performing “ Frosty the Snowman,” the next instant they are performing a spoof on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and then somehow, they manage to simultaneously create the many characters in “A Chrsitmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  It’s nothing short of a cosmic comedy with these three stellar actors. They sing, dance, and clown around while the audience eats it up and wants more. Their characters’ names are the first names of the actors.

Every time Ed puts on his black cape, top hat, and somber face, the audience knows he is going to say in his most proper English: “Marley was dead: to begin with.  There is no doubt whatever about that. Dead as a door nail.” This is done throughout the show and never fails to get a laugh, thanks to Ed’s perfect timing. Although, Ed wants to present this work in its entirety, Rob insists that it has been done to death and he wants to do something else. Ian agrees with Rob and so they turn the Dickens’ classic into a class comedy act. 

Ian Diedrich is outstanding in all his characterizations, but his role as “Christmas Past” is so unexpected and perfectly captured that the audience got “all shook up” with laughter. In another segment, Ian plays the host of a quiz show that is absolutely a riot. Both times, his facial expressions are so different, that it’s easy to see these are different characters. 

Rob Richnavsky is also a master of expression. Whether he is sobbing like a baby because Ed has informed him that there is no Santa or bouncing around as one of the balloons in the Macy Parade, he never fails to earn a laugh. 

All three actors make this show unforgettable. They have a running comic scene about how Christmas is celebrated all over the world and there’s a fruitcake scene that is simply unforgettable. There’s nothing traditional about these comic spin-offs on favorite Christmas stories. The format is a lot like comedy club material, rather than a full length play, but it all comes together well and works like a charm. 

Claudia Duhamel’s set design is exceptionally English and fine. Sharon A. Wilcox’s sound design adds to the humor of the play. This show plays through Dec. 9 at 686 Rubber Avenue, Naugatuck. Box office: 203-632-8546 or phoenixstagecompany.org.

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association, and covers art and culture in a blog for CBS National and CBS-CT.  She welcomes comments. Contact: jgrochman@gmail.com