By FRANK RIZZO, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
12:29 PM EST, December 9, 2013
The show: "Christmas on the Rocks" at Hartford's TheaterWorks
What makes it special: World premiere of a holiday show featuring short pieces by seven established playwrights: Theresa Rebeck, Jonathan Tolins, John Cariani, Matthew Lombardo, Jeffrey Hatcher, Edwin Sanchez and Jacques Lamarre.
First impressions: In the perennial search for alternative holiday programming, TheaterWorks and its producing artistic director Rob Ruggiero have come up with a winner with this sassy, easy-going parody, taking various young characters from Christmas classics and revisiting them one-by-one as middle-aged adults as they seek refuge in a lonely bar on cold and snowy night on Christmas Eve.
The mood is sometimes cynical, sometimes sad, sometimes sweet and while the gimmick —- things haven't turned out as well as you'd hoped for these characters —- could do with more variations, less dependency on name-dropping and a few more twists, the short, mostly-silly pieces go down easy. There's plenty of laughs from the trio of very funny performers: Harry Bouvy, Christine Pedi and Ronn Carroll as the bartender who has seen and heard it all. It all adds up to a tasty punch, not something you want to drink on a regular basis but hits the spot during the holidays.
Who are the holiday characters: I don't want to give too much away, but let's just say Cariani's evening opener starts these Christmas stories with a great visual joke as it sets out to tell its bittersweet tale, "All Grown Up."
Tolins' "The Cane in the Corner" takes a look at a disillusioned Susan from "The Miracle on 34th Street," who is now a real estate agent still looking for the perfect house. "I wasted a lot of time believing —- in Santa, in eHarmony, SlimFast. But now I know I'm on my own."
Hatcher sets the dial for high camp and puts the rude in the "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" story with "Say It Glows," taking a flamboyant grown Hermey and showing that an Elf's life can come up short, too.
Lombardo playfully breaks the stylistic mold with the cautionary tale "Going Green," a black-humor piece done entirely in verse, from the perspective of Cindy Lou Who who ended up wed to the Grinch. (It didn't go well.)
Rebeck's piece has the most sublety and seriousness (though still funny) with the arrival of a not-so-Tiny Tim, who has not exactly embraced the spirit of his benefactor —- at least until he gets one more Dickensian reminder.
The nuttiest piece in more ways than one is Sanchez' "Still Nuts About Him," which takes perhaps the least iconic character of the bunch and creates another surreal marital mismatch between an over-the-hill ballerina and a libidinous wooden stiff.
The evening ends with a deliciously twisted tale that ends in a sweet spot: Lamarre's "Merry Christmas, Blockhead" that takes the holiday's most forlorn fellow and gives him a touch of holiday cheer.
The show sounds like fun: It is and you'll love the versatility, inventiveness and comic dare of Bouvy and Pedi. These two show what truly gifted comic actors can do when dealing with terrific —- and less-than terrific —- material. Carroll as the mostly unfazed bartender perfectly sets up the jokes as well as the drinks and pretzels. He also gets a nice turn of his own in Rebeck's bittersweet playlet.
I also loved Alejo Vietti's witty costumes that ranges from an over the hill Russian ballerina to a zany Who-ville resident to a high-powered realtor who evokes Natalie Wood.
But the collection could still benefit from a bit more tweaking, especially editing of the lines that go over the same thematic turf.
Who will like it?: Post-modern comics. Theater managing directors.
Who won't?: Those who only like their holidays smothered in sentimental goo.
For the kids?: Only cynical teens. Keep the dew on the little ones' eyes for a while longer.
Of note: Can you find the references to the seven stories in Michael Schweikardt's bar setting that are so realistic that it'll make you want to order a gimlet.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: A tasty Christmas trifle
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: Ruggiero has indicated that other playwrights may contribute a few more pieces in future seasons that could refresh the entertainment, perhaps even having enough re-gifted stories to create two evenings.
The basics: "Christmas on the Rocks" will play TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. The show runs through Dec. 22. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 to $50. Information at 860-527-7838 and www.theaterworkshartford.org.
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