Everything changes, and nothing can remind us of that truth so easily as the slow altering of Christmas traditions. ACE producer Joe Zingo and local musician Lydia Lord have teamed up to create Christmas: The Most Wonderful Time of The Year, reflecting the delights and questions of the holidays in splendid ACE style.
On the surface Christmas is a glitzy pageant of music and mischief, a fabulous parade of tacky holiday sweater vests and gorgeous Christmas gowns. Favorite songs are crooned soulfully or with an extra snap while you sip mulled wine and appreciate the company of skilled singers and the laugher of the ladies from the Red Hat Society.
Lydia Lord, the mistress of mash-up, creates a masterpiece with her music. She’ll take several songs on a theme and mix them up: like her snow medley, where she weaves three songs to run almost simultaneously, finishing in a perfect, thematic and harmonic bow made of each strand. She has collected and refined Christmas songs about home, change, obscure and dangerous animals as gift ideas, everything. One of the audience favorites was a brief blend of every weird and wacky Christmas song you’ve ever had the misfortune to hear. The show-stopping number, though, is Lord’s original piece, “Christmas in Eugene.” The song unabashedly recognizes that a Currier and Ives Christmas has got nothing on the foggy, soggy, tie-dyed holiday delights of our town.
As the music cocoons its audience, the actors banter back and fourth and slip in just enough dialog to work out a few themes. It is these themes that take Christmas to a deeper level.
Zingo’s monologues wrestle with unsatisfied Christmas truths; it’s hard for a kid to be good in the anticipation-filled weeks leading up to Christmas. Christmas changes and we grow and age. Parents try to do the right thing, and occasionally they succeed. While peppered with jokes and flippant thoughts, Zingo probes at the real human emotion of the holidays.
Standout performances came from Megan Simon as the Christmas Reind-elf, a Santa’s assistant gone rogue. Michelle Sellers delivers a kick with an overcommitted mom in the midst of an ever-lengthening holiday to-do list. Cody Mendonca muses as a child asking Santa the big questions, like how does he fit down the chimney, anyway?
Overall, the writing was suggestive of someone looking back. There are moments that wrestle with the sadness that can accompany the season, and I think that rather than shy away from such big questions, the play should embrace them. As the show is polished for publication, I would like to suggest that the show be centered more solidly as a play for adults who sometimes wrestle with the meaning of Christmas. Truth be told, there is much for children at this time of year, and a play that delights with music while it considers the problems presented by Christmas is well worth the production effort. An adult reflection on the meaning and memories of the season truly does make for wonderful theater.
Christmas: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year runs Nov. 30 through Dec. 22 at the Actors Cabaret of Eugene.