Silent night? Fat chance. Even as half-eaten Thanksgiving pies still languish in refrigerators, the theater trots out its bevy of holiday offerings. This year’s jollity includes: four Christmas Carols, a pirate Christmas SpectaculARGH!, Vickie and Nickie’s Holiday Sleigh Ride!, and Moisty the Snowman Saves Christmas—to say nothing of Elf. Also decking the halls as of last week are two further Yuletide shows: Ho!, a solo piece by Brian Dykstra, and Looking at Christmas, by Steven Banks, a/k/a Billy the Mime.
Though Ho!‘s title promises a festive salaciousness, Dykstra little resembles a pimp as he narrates these two brief one-acts, poems both. In the first story, Santa Claus’s concern with his intellectual property rights has led him to “incarcerate heavy guys when they were acting jolly/Take one percent of lifetime earnings from every girl named Holly.” (Relentless rhymed couplets compose the play.) But Santa meets his legendary match when he sues the Jolly Green Giant over the trademarked phrase “Ho, ho, ho.” In the second piece, written in free verse, an arrogant blue spruce celebrates the Nativity with a cohort of Riverside Park homeless. This one is particularly sappy.
Both stories seem pleasingly Scrooge-like at first, but each eventually displays a Tiny Tim at its center, revealing Dykstra’s earlier curmudgeonliness as mere pose. Dykstra seems like a clever and amiable man, never more so than when he breaks character to address a stream of technical glitches. But the steady march of metrics, the indifferent rhymes, and the considerable schmaltz render Ho! a cloying scoop of Christmas pudding.
One might expect a more sinister confection from Banks, whose past work as Billy the Mime suggests that bad taste transcends linguistic expression. His wordless re-creation of the events of 9/11 apparently inspired particular umbrage. But in Looking at Christmas, Banks has departed from that persona and scripted a romantic comedy staged ‘neath the glow of Macy’s and Bloomie’s holiday displays. If you have a talent for abuse, why would you squander it on such froth? It’s as if he’s traded rotten eggs for eggnog.
John (Michael Micalizzi), a writer newly unemployed, and Charmian (Allison Buck), an actress perpetually so, meet cute and seasonably cold on Christmas Eve as they walk from one shop window to the next. After bantering conversation before each piece of plate glass, they scurry off, and then the window’s inhabitants—the Little Match Girl; Mrs. Claus and a libidinous elf; Jesus, Mary, and Joseph—have a chat. This structural formula never varies, nor does Banks’s adherence to rom-com clichés. A few of the colloquies among the fictional characters hint at his perverse sense of humor, but the play seems rubbed clean of anything really subversive. Jim Simpson directs efficiently, while the actors, culled from the Flea’s resident company the Bats, perform with lashings of Christmas cheer.
No one would argue against warm and fuzzy holiday fare (I’m partial to the Claymation Rudolph), but a veneer of cynicism overlaying a saccharine interior is no way to construct a gingerbread house.