Thursday, December 04, 2008

Back Stage West Review - The Night Before Christmas - Critic's Pick

posted by Nick Cernoch at 10:47 AM
The Night Before Christmas
Critic's Pick

December 04, 2008
Reviewed by Les Spindle
The familiar yet ever-resonant message about the true meaning of Christmas becomes a curdled cup of holiday cheer in Anthony Neilson's delectable British satire, a breath of fresh air in the annual avalanche of saccharine seasonal fare. The title alludes to Clement Clarke Moore's beloved poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, but the rib-tickling narrative trots off on a goofy irreverent track. Director Robert Pescovitz and four spirited actors parlay Neilson's loopy fable into an hour of nonstop delights.

On Christmas Eve in London, grumpy bachelor Simon (Troy Metcalf) and his easygoing divorced pal Gary (Doug Newell) meet in the warehouse that Gary manages. Gary offers a surprise: He has tied up a short individual he found lurking in the warehouse. The captive (female actor K.M. Davies) wears an elf outfit and claims to be a helper of Santa's. It's unclear whether this peculiar being is telling the truth or is merely a thieving junkie hoping to sell stolen goods for a narcotics fix. When brassy floozy Cherry (Nina Silver) arrives, demanding a payoff from her client Gary, the elf offers to grant a wish to each captor in exchange for his own release. In the process of deciding what they want the most, the motley three make individual discoveries about what's truly important.

Underlying the farcical complications are themes about the commercialism of Christmas and the way temptations like drugs and sex can lead people away from their responsibilities to others. The elf's outlandish explanations of the operations of the Santa enterprise and the reactions he draws — ranging from skepticism to guarded belief — keep the laughs coming, and the instantaneous segues to more sobering thoughts are skillfully rendered. Metcalf is deliciously droll as the exasperated cynic Simon, while Newell provides perfect balance as his more fair-minded pal. Silver finds hilarity as well as moments of melancholy truth. Davies rounds out the expert ensemble, underplaying her lines as the sad-eyed yet suspicious sprite, yielding maximum comic impact. This change-of-pace effort is a welcome yuletide treat from the adventurous.

Presented by Furious Theatre Company at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Blvd., Pasadena. Nov. 29-Dec. 20. Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m. (800) 595-4849


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