If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

Holiday Playlets at TheaterWorks

Leave it to Hartford’s TheaterWorks to eschew traditional holiday fare and come up with their own original take on the season. Forget your “Christmas Carols” and “Nutcrackers”, Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero has, instead, conceived and directed “Christmas on the Rocks”, an adult collection of acerbic short plays by seven contemporary writers. The hook here is that each play looks at an iconic Christmas character to discover how they have fared after all these years. It’s a tantalizing concept which must have sounded awfully good in the planning. The results are another matter.

TheaterWorks is not lacking for impressive names behind “Christmas on the Rocks”. The roster of playwrights include Theresa Rebeck, Jonathan Tolins, John Cariani and Jeffrey Hatcher while the cast of characters include Hermey, the dentist/elf from “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”, Susan, the young girl from “The Miracle on 34th Street” and Tiny Tim from “A Christmas Carol”. Suffice it to say, none of these folks is particularly happy about the way their life has turned out and this becomes one of the plusses of the evening. During this sweet and sentimental time of year, a little cynicism is most welcome.

With a format like this, some pieces are going to be stronger than others. All the playlets are really little more than one-joke sketches and some are extended well beyond their due date. Set in a dinghy neighborhood bar (nicely detailed by designer Michael Schweikardt), the evening features Christine Pedi and Harry Bouvy each taking a mini star-turn in alternating plays. Ronn Carroll remains the constant playing a patient bartender and, since most of the plays are extended monologues, Mr. Carroll is called upon to do a lot of listening. It can’t be easy.

The highlights of this 90 minute evening (no intermission) all feature Mr. Bouvy doing marvelous work in a variety of sad-sack roles. In John Cariani’s “All Grown Up”, Bouvy plays Ralphie, the BB gun-loving young boy from “A Christmas Story” who arrives at the bar middle-aged and wearing an eye patch. He also gets to play a married and miserable Charlie Brown in the evening’s finale, “Merry Christmas, Blockhead”, which features some sharp observations from playwright Jacques Lamarre. Bouvy is also uproarious playing the sly elf Hermey, who has blossomed full flower into a flaming member of the Gay community. As he downs one drink after another, Hermes has a ball dissing his red-nosed friend and making rude remarks about the bar’s decor. Jeffrey Hatcher’s wickedly funny sketch goes down the easiest without overstaying its welcome.

A master mimic of celebrity voices, Christine Pedi nonetheless proves a bit of a disappointment. She misses the melancholy humor of Jonathan Tolins’ “The Cane in the Corner” where her Susan, from “The Miracle on 34th Street”, is now a bitter real-estate agent. And as the alcoholic Cindy Lou Who (of “Grinch” fame) she has yet to master the rhyming cadences in the Dr. Seuss-inspired “Going Green” by Matthew Lombardo. As Clara in Edwin Sanchez’s “Still Nuts About Him” she plays the now-grown child star from “The Nutcracker” ballet with a Russian accent so thick that many of the funnier lines get lost in translation.

Ronn Carroll, a veteran character actor, seems adrift and unprepared throughout most of the evening in what, at times, is a mostly thankless role of active listening. Whenever things drag, though, there is always Mr. Bouvy with yet another peerless impersonation to brighten the proceedings. He’s the show’s merry and most valuable player.

 “Christmas on the Rocks” continues at TheaterWorks through December 22, 2013. For further information or ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 860.527.7838 or visit: www.theaterworkshartford.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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