Christmas on the Rocks

by Stu Brown

My first reaction upon leaving Theaterworks’ highly entertaining world premiere production, Christmas on the Rocks, was why hadn’t someone thought of this idea before now?  Director Rob Ruggiero asked seven playwrights -- John Cariani, Jeffrey Hatcher, Jacques Lamarre, Matthew Lombardo, Theresa Rebeck, Edwin Sanchez, and Jonathan Tolin--to take iconic Christmas characters from holiday themed movies and television classics and reimagine them as older, more disenchanted and indifferent individuals. The result—seven very short playlets (no more then 12 minutes each) that are at times funny, poignant, joyful, and touching.

Each scene takes place in a seedy bar overseen by an aged bartender, played with a convincing worldweariness by Ronn Carroll. The other two cast members, the talented Harry Bouvy and Christine Pedi, portraying a variety of characters, rotate scenes until they unite in the finale. Which portions of the linked plays did I like the most? What about those I found only mildly amusing? I’d rather not say, leaving the decision to each audience member. Each of the seven had their own charm and wit. Some I preferred might not have registered with other theater-goers and vice versa. The plots? Again, mum’s the word. Half of the fun of Christmas on the Rocks is discovering who the character is when they walk through the bar’s front door. However, be forewarned -- brush up on your holiday films and TV shows before attending a performance. This will maximize your viewing pleasure and understanding of the inside jokes.

All three actors were marvelous, displaying subtle, humorous or over-the-top portrayals, depending on the their particular scene. With a different wig and change of clothing both Bouvy and Pedi were able to become a multitude of completely different, totally convincing characters. Bravo.

Michael Schweikardt’s set design of the run-down pub was so authentic looking.  His attention to detail was superb. Look for Kris Kringle’s cane and Tiny Tim’s walking stick to the side of the bar and the dollar bills taped to the mirror. A lit chihuahua’s head at the top of the liquor cabinet was an offbeat touch.

Director Rob Ruggiero effortlessly connects each of the seven plays to form a seamless whole. He skillfully guides each performer to bring out the essence of their role whether it is the comic, the inspirational, or the nuttiness or all three. Ruggiero perfectly paces each scene to elicit just the right blend of emotion and entertainment.

Christmas on the Rocks, hopefully a new holiday tradition in the Hartford area, playing now through December 22nd.

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