Curtain Call: The Phoenix decks the stage with laughter

The Phoenix Stage Company, Oakville: Ed Bassett is ready to present Dickens’ holiday classic, when Rob Richnavsky refuses to do that show again. He’s had it with the tradition and agrees to perform A Christmas Carol, only if Bassett allows Richnavsky and Ian Diedrich to do more up-to-date holiday shows. That’s when the fun begins and the super talented trio acts out the plots of famous holiday shows and characters, like the Grinch, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, Charlie Brown and many more. In spite of the fact that Bassett represents the traditional and the young actors the new, Bassett ends up getting in on all the action.

What works so well for this production of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some) is that it’s hard to tell who’s having more fun, the cast or the audience. It’s a contagiously funny, upbeat, fast-paced show directed with an eye and ear toward comedy by Tim Phillips who makes the whole theater-going experience a celebration. He even gets members from the audience to join the actors on stage for added fun.

If you are a frequent theater-goer, then you will recognize that the three actors in this cast are some of the all-time best community actors. You couldn’t ask for a stronger cast to do this production. Bassett, who is the artistic director of this theater and who does everything from acting, singing, dancing and directing well, is especially humorous. He frequently tries to get the others to do the Dickens play by announcing: “Marley was dead. Every time Ed said the line, the audience laughed out loud because Bassett set it up and plays it straight as an arrow. The more serious he is, the more the audience laughs.

Don’t be surprised when you enter to see clips from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” on a background screen. Eventually, the actors do their own version of the movie. This play isn’t kidding when it states that it’s every Christmas story ever told and then some. The “then some” includes everything from references to Hanukkah and Kwanzaa to lyrics from familiar Christmas carols and popular holiday movies.

Richnavsky is so funny that as soon as he steps on stage, you’ll laugh. I’ve never seen him so outrageously zany. He has been in many productions, many have not been comedies, but this show proves that he can do it all. Mind you, he has a reputation extending far and wide as a highly regarded fight choreographer. He is definitely quick on his feet. His eyes are so expressive that he doesn’t even have to speak to let you know that he’s up to something crazy in this production.

As for Diedrich, he keeps adding superlatives to his reviews. His Elvis imposter is a show stealer in this production and he does the King exceedingly well. This actor has a long list of credits including drama, comedy, and musicals, all of which won him positive reviews. He has also directed and worked backstage on many area productions.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Bassett’s and Lori Poulin’s costumes, especially the hats, are so terrific they accent both the scenes and the humor. Bassett designed the set, a brick storefront streetscape featuring the sign, “Scrooge & Marley — London.” Al Hathway designed the lights and Bassett designed the sound. D. Gene Wilburn and Lydia Cleft provided props.

For a fun evening out, this production fits the holiday bill. There were some children in the audience on opening night. The lines and actions that have double entendres went right over their heads. The show runs through Dec. 9. Box office: 860-417-2505.

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact:[email protected]