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December 14, 2006
Sunday Merry Sunday
Left: Theresa Ireland tells Santa (Bob Wells)
what she wants for Christmas at the Redwood Curtain benefit.
Photo by Bill Kowinski
Last Sunday began with Jupiter,
Mars and Mercury clustered in the pre-dawn sky -- the first time
since 1925, the last until 2053. Not that I saw that particular
performance -- getting to brunch for a noon "curtain time"
was early enough for me. I was beginning my Christmas show marathon.
"It's a raincoat and sunglasses day,"
remarked the woman behind the counter at Arcata Liquor, where
I bought my Sunday newspapers (with my book review in the Chronicle)
before crossing the Plaza to Mazzotti's Restaurant. There, with
your choice of broccoli and pancetta quiche with fresh fruit,
or eggs Benedict with prosciuto puff pastry and champagne, you
got A Christmas Commedia, served piping hot by Sanctuary
The show is itself a mercurial combination of classic
commedia dell'arte -- right down to the characters from
its Italian origins -- and Charles Dickens' fable, A Christmas
Carol. Scrooge as the commedia's Pantalone (also a rich miser
who abuses his servants, as Scrooge does Bob Cratchit) is just
the starting point of the interplay. Factor in the contemporary
references (like the very recognizable face on the Ghost of Christmas
Past) and there's another source of unexpected energy, and laughs.
"Bah, Humboldt!" Pantalone shouts, and we're off.
The cast is outstanding, led by Tinamarie Ivey
in a tour de force as Pantalone. Though all the performers
(including Carrie Hudson, Melissa Lawson, Dan and Zachary Stone)
have physical comedy skills, and fine comic timing and presence,
the intensity shoots up to the roof as soon as Heath Houghton
bounds on stage. He's always one of those actors you have to
watch, but he adds both an individual and a cohesive energy to
this ensemble -- and he does a jump on his knees from the stage
to the floor that will drop your quiche-filled jaw.
What most impressed me about this show (scenario
by Dan Stone, elaborated by cast improvisation in rehearsals)
is the combination of physical humor, verbal wit and a mostly
efficient and forward-moving story with the major narrative virtues:
You could follow it, and it kept you involved, even when you
basically know what's supposed to happen next. There's the traditional
slapstick, chases and double-takes, but also wordplay, topical
asides and in-jokes (anybody who recognizes the "I'm alive"
intonation from James Whales' Frankenstein gets an extra
laugh) that fly by almost as fast as in a Marx Brothers movie.
Though Dickens' story retains its prominence and
power on its own, this is a well-performed, well-crafted entertainment,
and an intelligent companion to the Sunday papers on the table.
With cleavage and toilet humor, of course. You've got one more
chance to see A Christmas Commedia -- this coming Sunday
(Dec.17) at Mazzotti's. Brunch starts at 11, and the show at
There was a lot of Christmas-related theatre happening
on Sunday. I saw three shows and still didn't have time to get
to the matinee of Cinderella (packing them in at Ferndale
Rep) or the back-by-popular-demand Humboldt Light Opera show,
King Island Christmas, both beginning at 2 p.m.
The next event I could attend was the Redwood Curtain
benefit at the Bayside Grange in mid-afternoon. Co-founders Peggy
Metzger and Clint Rebik seemed overcome by the impressive turnout
when they took the stage to introduce a reading of David Sedaris'
Santaland Diaries, performed by Edward Olson. "You
can brag to your friends you were here for our entire 2006 season,"
Rebik quipped. Redwood Curtain's year in the dark, and its prospective
future, were on everyone's minds. But after referring to the
still-ongoing search for new digs, Metzger flat-out promised:
"We are going to produce a season in 2007, come hell or
The Sedaris piece is an account of an actor new
to New York who takes a job as a Christmas elf at Macy's department
store, where an army of elves run a huge, season-long assembly
line of kids and their parents past multiple Santas. Olson, having
donned the gay apparel called for in the story, effectively rendered
the humor and human observations of this pleasant, contemporary
tale. Then while most of the audience moved to the munchies supplied
by Curley's Bar & Grill, others went up on stage to be photographed
with a leering Santa (Bob Wells) and a sweet Mrs. Claus (Lynne
Next I finally caught up with the Dell'Arte Company's
holiday show, Entrances and Exits, at the Adorni Center
in Eureka, where it had to compete with the entertainment value
of those little birds seeming to glide along the waterline in
the darkness, feeding in the shallows of the bay.
The core idea of this show is vaudeville farce,
with the inherent impudence of opening, closing and skittering
doors punctuating the sketches, music and requisite, child-pleasing
clowning. All the members of the ensemble (Tara Cariaso, Carlos
Alexis Cruz, Gulshirin Dubash, Kajsa Ingemansson, Morgan Jarl,
Andrew Phoenix, Helga Rosenfeldt-Olsen and Freddy Villano) are
young, skilled and enormously appealing.
The show itself seemed uneven -- tight and incisive
at times, slack and virtually incomprehensible at others. The
clarity of situation and form of vaudeville theatre was lacking,
and while that may have been part of the experimental intention,
easily grasping the premise and form allows the audience to recognize
surprise and relax into the laughter. But there are plenty of
I'd love to see this group do Second City-style
improv, especially after a few months in front of audiences.
This weekend you can see this very watchable ensemble do the
Carlo Theatre version of this show, Thursday through Sunday,
Finally, very late last Sunday, the hemisphere
premiere of the annual Geminid meteor shower began. I didn't
see that either. I was writing this column.
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