Christmas on the Rocks – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

TheaterWorks Hartford wants you to laugh your way, heartedly and happily, into the holiday season. A decade ago, Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero conceived and has since directed a unique Christmas idea. He invited seven playwrights, who had each had at least one of their works performed on the TheaterWorks Hartford stage, to pen a vignette about a favorite childhood hero or heroine holiday character. Ruggiero set the tales in a bar on Christmas eve, into which they wandered one at a time.

This year Ted Lange, of “The Love Boat” fame, serves again as the friendly, easy listening bartender as “Christmas on the Rocks” stays open for business until Friday, December 23. The wildly talented and funny Jen Cody and Harry Bouvy bring all our childhood pals to entertaining life, now as grown-ups. To keep the show fresh, new episodes are incorporated each year while others are temporarily retired.

Come meet Zuzu, the youngest daughter of George Bailey of Bedford Falls, New York who needs an angel Clarence to save him from himself. Poor Zuzu is traumatized by bells of every chime, from church bells to school bells to cow bells. Most especially she fears the bell that signals an angel is getting his wings. Jacques Lamarre has created “A Miserable Life” as a new anxiety riddled scene.

Next in the tavern door, in “All Grown Up” by John Cariani, we meet Ralphie Parker from “A Christmas Story” whose mother always warned him not to shoot his eye out with the B B gun he wanted. He sees his dad’s famous lady leg lamp on the counter and confesses his love of all things plushy, like the pink bunny suit his Aunt Clara sent him. P. S. He is sporting an eye patch.

“My Name is KAREN” by Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas tells the tale of the cartoon girl who created Frosty the Snowman, an ungrateful three balls of snow that doesn’t give Karen the credit she feels she deserves. She enters the bar with a hair dryer and brags about Frosty’s demise, even as the police surround the area. She uses social media to proclaim her victory and triumph.

Rudolph moves to the shadows as Hermie the Elf announces he doesn’t want to make toys any longer. He wants to be a dentist in Jeffrey Hatcher’s “Say it Glows.” A guilty conscience is evident as Hermie confesses his misdeeds as a misfit as well as his love for root canals. Join him in downing his favorite drink of root beer and Novocaine.

Have you ever entertained your children with a visit from The Elf on the Shelf, hiding it in strange places every night, in configurations that hurt. In “Snitch” by Jenn Harris, we enter the toxic work environment of this elf who has to watch the kiddies so she can tell Santa if they have been naughty or nice. Clearly this elf wants a new and less abusive work assignment.

With echoes of a manger in Bethlehem and a nod to “Fiddler on the Roof,” in trumpets the Little Drummer Boy in “Drumsticks and Chill” by Judy Gold and Jacques Lamarre. While he marvels that the best Christmas songs were written by Jews, he deplores the existence of anti-semitism and complains that he is suffering from performance anxiety.

Clara, the ballerina from “The Nutcracker,” dances into the bar to complain about the crazy czar of love who she married. She proceeds to pound the possible 55 kinds of nuts on the bar, all while gulping vodka. Her love and hate relationship with her nutcracker soldier hubby is a delight to behold, as she agonizes over his non-gender specific infidelity. She just may kill him with love in “Still Nuts about Him” by Edwin Sanchez.

“Merry Christmas, Blockhead” by Jacques Lamarre is last but certify not least as Charlie Brown shuffles in, despondent that he has just buried Snoopy #4. On the verge of divorce from his wife and long time psychiatrist Lucy, he has embraced a life of “oy veys” and “good griefs” and sees little to ever make him happy. That is until a certain Little Red Headed Girl enters the tavern and they begin to dance.

For tickets ($25 and up), call TheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford at 860-527-7838 or online at Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m and 6:30 p.m. and Friday, December 23 at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

For an extremely comical and slightly cynical look at our childhood idols, let “Christmas on the Rocks” prepare you a cocktail of holiday libations with a twist.