The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged)
Like no holiday show I have seen before, The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s "The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged)" jingle-jangles its way into town playing on the Lyceum Stage at the San Diego Repertory Theatre.
Written by Reed Martin, a UCSD graduate, and Austin Tichenor, "The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged)" is a riotous and interactive walk through the history of the holiday season. Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Pagan beliefs are explored, as are themes of commercialism, Santa Claus, and the spirit of Christmas. No rock is left unturned, no aspect of the season left uncharted, and there’s a bit of holiday education along the way.
It’s time for St. Everybody’s Non-Denominational Universalist Church’s annual Multi-cultural Interfaith Holiday Variety Show and Christmas Pageant. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, a severe winter storm has entered the region and flights have been cancelled or rerouted with none of the acts scheduled to perform having arrived.
Now it’s up to the show’s handlers to stage the greatest holiday program ever and with a little help from the audience, some divine intervention, and probably a good amount of caffeine, they pull off what is probably the funniest holiday performance of this season.
With a little improv, musical theater, dancing and costumes galore, this trio of actors delivers a tour de force performance that left the room in stitches and exiting the theater still buzzing.
Dustin Sullivan, the youngest member of the cast, has an infectious smile and a wonderful sense of innocence. Engaging and filled with a childlike wonderment, he was an easy and safe connection between the audience and what unfolds on stage.
Mick Orfe had a father-like essence to him quietly, and not-so quietly at times, directing the events of the evening. Quick on his toes and courageous enough to don nothing but a diaper at one point of the show, Orfe was a perfect antithesis to Sullivan’s presence.
Michael Faulkner, the final piece to this "manger a trois," absolutely stole this show. Wonderfully tacky and over the top, Faulkner helped push the energy level up especially during a few moments when the timing dragged. His distinct characterizations and physical animation were larger than life and an absolute delight.
As enjoyable as the evening may have been, this show is not without some faults. With so many costume changes and transitions, the overall timing of the show struggled. The audience found themselves alone on a few occasions and noticeably grew uncomfortable in the darkness.
The script could use a little fine tuning as well. Witty, sharp, and with enough leeway for the actors to play off the audience, the text could at times be a little preachy. I did love some of the insights into the holiday season and many of the origins of our traditions but I would have liked to have seen it weaved in a little more creatively.
Light-hearted but with a message, "The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged)" is a wonderful way to experience the holiday season in a more atypical way. If you decide to go, be sure to show up to the Rep a little early and enjoy the art currently displayed in the lobbies of the theatre.
A little culture and a glass or two of wine are a great way to start off any holiday season and some social lubrication might be what you need should you suddenly find yourself a part of the performance.