The holidays are inexorably upon us with their inevitable good cheer, exhortations to spend copiously on food and gifts and the annual plethora of holiday entertainments on stages and screens, replete with ho-hos and bah-humbugs. Little Fish Theatre has taken a clever path with A Very Special Holiday Special!, an evening (or matinée) of short plays by prolific short-play author, Mark Harvey Levine, who has had over fourteen-hundred productions of his plays mounted in countries literally around the world. I confess to a fondness for short play productions. Usually they are ten-minute works by different playwrights, so this holiday special with scenes by one writer is unique in that respect. Short plays also have the advantage of shortness. If one doesn’t care for the play being presented, it is blessedly over in ten minutes. If it is thoroughly engaging, then one is sad to see it end. The cliché mixed bag is apt. And so it is with A Very Special Holiday Special!
Directed by Holly Baker-Kreiswirth, the plays attempt to level the tremendous weight and attention of the birth of Christ by evening the scale with a closer attention to Hanukkah, as well as the more secular memes of Grinch and Rudolph. It is all done with a respectful nod to both the Jewishness of the season and the Christian tradition—no small feat. The opening piece, Oy Vey Maria, depicts Mary, Joseph and the glowing baby Jesus in a manger in a stable. Mary’s stereotypical Jewish mother, with husband in tow, shows up with a foil-wrapped brisket for the holy family. There is much kvetching over the lack of accommodations in Bethlehem. There’s no room in the inn. Who knew? This family reunion keeps the Three Kings and their precious gifts at bay while the hilarity goes on. I think it right and proper that Jesus’ essential Jewishness is affirmed in this playlet. And, not to waste food—a sin!—the same foil-wrapped goodness shows up later in I’ll be Home for Brisket.
A talking Christmas tree haunts a Jewish man with a Christian wife in Oh, Tannenbaum. She (who knew trees have gender?) complains about the decorations, whines about the stale popcorn chain, and pleads to be returned to the forest. In the delightful Best Present Ever, a single woman cozies up with her with her semi-sleazy amour while bemoaning the loneliness of the season. With a degree of reverence and humor, The Light tells the story of Hannukah and the miracle of the sacred flame surviving for eight days when there was only a small amount of oil left to fuel it. You Better Watch Out, which has a military bent, the enthusiastic A Very Special Holiday Special!, and Les Miserabelves, which is a tongue in cheek send up of Les Miz, round out the play list.
Playwright Mark Levine relies a bit too much on holiday phrases, song titles, and other typical holiday expressions reworked into lines or titles meant to be humorous; very amusing at first, but tiresome in repetition. The pre-show opening, which featured every member of the cast (Madeleine Drake, Amanda Karr, Susie McCarthy, Jim Rice, Daniel Tennant, Margaret Schugt and Bill Wolski) was hilarious as the obligatory reminders of exits, wrapped candy, cell phones, and the traditional pitch for donor support were neatly expressed in end-rhyme doggerel.
The show is mounted with a fluid, modular set by Phil Buono, lighting by Stacey Adams, costumes by Diana Mann, sound by Holly Baker-Kreiswirth, props by Madeleine Drake and stage management by Jacob Severence.
The audience clearly loves the show, which continues through December 17 at Little Fish Theatre, 777 S. Centre Street in San Pedro.