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Merry Little Holiday Shorts 2017

a Holiday Show
by Daniel Guyton, Steven Kobar, Mark Harvey Levine, Greg Freier, Ron Burch, Stephen Kaplan, James C. Ferguson

COMPANY : Onstage Atlanta, Inc. [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Onstage Atlanta on Ponce [WEBSITE]
ID# 5190

SHOWING : November 30, 2017 - December 10, 2017



The Best of Seasons Past

Have yourself a merry little Christmas -- or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or whatever else you celebrate -- when our "Merry Little Holiday Shorts" returns for your annual dose of seasonal cheer. Like a bowl of Chex Mix at a holiday party, this showcase features a diverse assortment of tasty theatrical treats written by local and national playwrights. This collection of nine one-act plays includes everything from the story of the first-ever Christmas to the tale of the tiresome search for the perfect Christmas tree. Enjoy favorites like "Oy Vey Maria", "Regifting" and "Three Elves Sitting Around Playing Poker" in this fun and fast-paced evening of theater at OnStage Atlanta in Decatur, brought back to our stage for 6 performances only.

"Last of the Tannenbaums" Daniel Guyton
"Jingle Ball Rock" Katy Clarke
"Three Elves Sitting Around Playing Poke Elisabeth Cooper
"Regifting" Charlie Miller
"To Grandmother’s House We Go" DeWayne Morgan
"Oy Vey Maria" DeWayne Morgan
"Oh, Tannenbaum" Jamie Lynn Perniciaro
"Last of the Tannenbaums" William Thurmond
"Deck Your Own Friggin’ Halls" Geoff Uterhardt
Liebowitz ("Oh, Tannenbaum") Jack Allison
Son (TGHWG), Rupert (DYOFH) Blake Buhler
Red ("Jingle Ball Rock") J. Michael Carroll
Mother (TGHWG), King #2/Mother (OVM), Ba Lory Cox
Eddie (LOTT), Ann (OVM), Backup Caroler Bobbie Elzey
Lumberjack (LOTT), Christmas Tree (OT) Aaron Gotlieb
Dangle (TESAPP), King #1/Mother (OVM), W Kate Guyton
Rachel ("Regifting") Tali Higgins
New ("Jingle Ball Rock") Brian Jones
Gold ("Jingle Ball Rock") John King
Snit (TESAPP), Father (TGHWG), Joachim/J Nat Martin
Rip (TESAPP), Joseph (FUU) Barry N. West
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Very Little Merry
by playgoer
Monday, December 4, 2017
You can’t blame opening-night jitters for the pacing problems in this year’s edition of "Merry Little Holiday Shorts." Maybe the fact that all the selections are retreads from previous years led complacent directors to assume short rehearsal periods would suffice. In any case, most performances pale in comparison to the original Onstage productions.

The first play, Daniel Guyton’s "Last of the Tannenbaums," is an exception, with Laura Schirmer’s performance as Bird a delight and Bobbie Elzy and Aaron Gotlieb making the play come alive as a tree and a lumberjack respectively. Director William Thurmond has staged the action to make use of a few tree stumps and evocative costumes, so the play comes off well. It seems to be just the right length.

Second is Steven Kobar’s "Regifting," which is another strong script. Charlie Miller has directed Tali Higgins and Erin Trapaga to give energetic performances as a couple of sisters confronted with the situation of needing to find a spur-of-the-moment gift for an unexpected guest, but there’s a rather stilted feel to the whole thing.

Third comes "Three Elves Sitting Around Playing Poker" by Ron Burch. Elisabeth Cooper has staged the show with nice costumes and acceptable props, but the pacing is uneven and the elf voices chosen by the three actors become grating after a while. Barry West has the lion’s share of the lines, and while he has ample stage presence, his pacing is so measured as to become plodding. Kate Guyton and Nat Martin fill their roles adequately, but give the feel of having had to come up with their performances without the aid of strong direction.

"Oh, Tannenbaum" comes fourth. Mark Harvey Levine’s script has its charms, and Aaron Gotlieb and Jack Allison give good performances, but having a second play with a talking tree gives a sameness to the proceedings. Last year, Davin Allen Grindstaff’s performance as Liebowitz lifted the bar high enough to make this show work in conjunction with "Last of the Tannenbaums." Here, with the two plays in the same act, it’s a let-down.

Last in the first act is Greg Freier’s "To Grandmother’s House We Go." DeWayne Morgan has staged the darkly quirky script nicely to evoke a car journey, aided by Charlie Miller’s sound design, but the show itself is a bit of a shambles. The cast doesn’t seem to have jelled, and the play falls flat without a consistent sense of black humor throughout.

The second act starts with Mark Harvey Levine’s "Oy Vey Maria." It’s a cute concept, with Mary’s mother visiting the stable in Bethlehem to bring a brisket and becoming miffed at seeing three wise men as guests. The show belongs to the mother (Ann), but Bobbie Elzey’s mildly funny performance just brings back memories of Shelley Barnett’s triumph in the role years ago. It’s a funny script, but the biggest laugh comes from Katy Clarke’s reading of a farewell line as the third wise man. What the show needs is spot-on comic acting in all the roles, and it isn’t getting it here.

"Deck Your Own Friggin’ Halls" is probably the best-directed show of the bunch. Googie Uterhardt has cast two sisters, Emily and Dani Toma-Harrold, in the single role of Gwendolyn. It doesn’t make a lot of sense in terms of the script, but their rapid-fire lines and journeys into and out of perfect unison prove a highlight of the production. Blake Buhler is too young for his role, but he and the carolers don’t detract from the show. Ron Burch’s script has inappropriate profanity to get the audience laughing, but seems fairly thin overall.

Stephen Kaplan’s meandering "For Unto Us" is the next-to-last selection of the evening. Engaging performances by Katy Clarke and Barry West are marred by pacing issues and a script that takes too long to get where it’s going. Director Clay Randal’s contribution to the show is utterly invisible.

James C. Ferguson’s "Jingle Ball Rock" ends the evening. The individual performances by John King, Kate Guyton, Mike Carroll, Lory Cox, and Brian Jones are all very good, as are the costumes. Katy Clarke’s direction doesn’t seem to have driven the cast to coalesce into a true ensemble, but the cute, slight script comes through.

Mike Carroll’s lighting is fine throughout, as is Bryant Keaton’s sound operation. Charlie Miller’s sound design relies a bit heavily on abrupt transitions between songs between plays, but they clearly mark the division between one play and the next.

"Merry Little Holiday Shorts" has been a treat over the years, allowing glimpses of new works with a holiday theme. Even when not all selections have truly succeeded, the audience has had the opportunity of experiencing something brand-new. Bringing back favorites from the past might seem like a good idea, but when you’re missing the elements that made the plays favorites in the first place, it becomes a very bad idea. Better to build a time machine and go back to see the original productions. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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