Thursday, December 04, 2008

Los Angeles Times Review: The Night Before Christmas

posted by Nick Cernoch at 12:24 PM
Review: Furious Theatre Company's 'The Night Before Christmas'
12:15 AM, December 4, 2008
As the inevitable onslaught of holiday-themed shows swings into high gear, Pasadena’s Furious Theatre Company offers a notably smart adult-oriented standout with "The Night Before Christmas."

In just under an hour, British playwright Anthony Neilson’s 1995 one-act comedy strikes an engaging balance of edginess, social commentary and hard-won optimism, without lapsing into sappy cliche.

Instead, yuletide formulas are wittily upended when a deadbeat Cockney lout named Gary (Doug Newell) captures an Elf (K.M. Davies) breaking into the toy warehouse where he works. Summoning his equally lowlife chum Simon (Troy Metcalf) to the scene of the crime, the pair debate whether to turn their bound prisoner over to the coppers.

To Simon’s astonishment, Gary is reluctant to dismiss the Elf — who characterizes himself as an employee of an "international gift distribution agency" — as merely an elaborately costumed junkie or lunatic. In fact, he’s starting to believe the captive Elf’s story, and in his warnings of dire consequences unless he’s released soon.

Amid their deliberations arrives Cherry (Nina Silver), a sharp-tongued prostitute looking to collect Gary’s promised payment for services rendered. After some impeccably played character setup, the real fun starts when the Elf, in a last-ditch effort to win his freedom, promises to grant each of them a single wish. Doubts vanish — perhaps more easily than they should — when an initial throwaway wish immediately comes true.

Under Robert Pescovitz’s nicely modulated direction, imagining potential gratifications brings these misfits face-to-face with the central dilemmas in each of their lives. The way each finds their moral compass plays out in an unsentimental, remarkably authentic manner that lends gravitas to Neilson’s yuletide: it’s grown-ups, far more than children, who are most in need of miracles.

-- Philip Brandes

“The Night Before Christmas," Pasadena Playhouse Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 20. $20. (800) 595-4849. Running time: 1 hour.

Caption: Nina Silver, Doug Newell and Troy Metcalf surround K.M. Davies (in elf suit) in Furious Theatre Company's "The Night Before Christmas."

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

Wednesday, December 03, 2008 Review - The Night Before Christmas

posted by Nick Cernoch at 10:17 AM

The Night Before Christmas

Nina Silver, Doug Newell and Troy Metcalf surround K.M. Davies
On paper, The Night Before Christmas is the perfect holiday show for Furious Theatre Company. After all, the company that brought us a post-apocalyptic cannibal love story isn't going to choose a holiday show full of warmth, holiday cheer, and cute little street urchins who somehow remind us all of the true meaning of Christmas. Anthony Neilson's comedy about two men who pretty much kidnap an elf—well, that sounds a lot more like Furious material. And it is.

Here's how it goes down: two men with a London warehouse full of "mostly" legal merchandise discover that a fellow in an elf suit has broken in. They tie the supposed elf to a chair while they try to get to the bottom of his story. Neither of the men actually believe that their uninvited visitor is a Christmas elf. Well, Gary believed it enough to call Simon, and Simon believes it just enough to not immediately call the police. But the whole sweet, innocent, I-just-fell-off-the-sleigh story has a few holes in it.

Like, how do they have enough sleighs to visit all the houses? And how do they get in when there's no chimney? The elf has answers for all of this (sometimes they have to jimmy doors), but the answers don't always satisfy, and the guys eventually start blaming the elf for everything they don't like about Christmas. (At one point, they suggest torturing the elf by force-feeding him fruitcake.

The guys are eventually joined by Cherry, a prostitute who has been promised Power Ranger toys by Gary in exchange for services rendered. Cherry, too, has complaints about Christmas—most of them rendering the show unsuitable for children—and things don't look so good for the elf.

It's a quick and funny comedy which, like many of the best comedies, ultimately has moments of real heart. The Furious production, helmed by Robert Pescovitz, hits all the right notes (starting when Simon, who refuses to be fooled by the elf, finds himself bouncing to infectious holiday music). One could analyze this play and identify exactly where it goes right, but subjecting it to close scrutiny would ultimately undermine its charm. The Night Before Christmas is that rare and wonderful creature: a holiday show that's genuinely funny ... and genuine

The Night Before Christmas runs at the Pasadena Playhouse Carrie Hamilton Theatre through December 20, 2008. For tickets and information, see

The Nightmare Before Christmas by Anthony Neilson; Directed by Robert Pescovitz. Produced by Furious Theatre Company. Stage Manager Liz Eldridge; Set and Lighting Design Christie Wright; Sound Design Cricket S. Myers; Costume Design Christy M. Hauptman; Dialect Coach Sara Hennessy; Graphic Design Eric Pargac; Marketing and Publicity David Elzer/DEMAND PR.

Elf - K.M. Davies
Simon - Troy Metcalf
Gary - Doug Newell
Cherry - Nina Silver

Monday, December 01, 2008

Star-News Feature: The Night Before Christmas

posted by Nick Cernoch at 1:42 PM
This `Night' takes on an adult twist for the holidays

By Michelle J. Mills, Staff Writer
Posted: 11/20/2008 04:52:36 PM PST

If you can't bear the thought of sitting through yet another "A Christmas Carol" or "Nutcracker," then Furious Theatre Company may have the answer.
The group is presenting the Los Angeles premiere of Anthony Neilson's "The Night Before Christmas" beginning Nov. 28 at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena.

Directed by Robert Pescovitz and starring Doug Newell, Troy Metcalf, Nina Silver and K.M. Davis, the adult comedy relates the tale of Gary, a warehouse worker, who believes he has discovered an elf during his shift on Christmas Eve. His friend (a closet homosexual living with his mother) and a hooker (who hopes to collect the coveted toy of the season in exchange for sexual favors) join Gary in determining if the elf is real. Through this they discover the true meaning of the season.

"It's a play about hope and family and generosity, people coming together to regain their innocence and, in a sense, redemption in a subversive way," Pescovitz said. "These are people from a certain social strata, so it's a cross between `A Miracle on 34th Street' and a Guy Ritchie movie."

Pescovitz has won several acting awards and was previously in the Furious Theatre production of "Canned Peaches in Syrup" and on television in episodes of "Cold Case" and "Brothers and Sisters." He directed "Hamlet" at the Gene Bua Theatre in Burbank and other Shakespearean plays for A Company of Their Own. His biggest obstacle with "The Night Before Christmas" is the short, intense rehearsal period, which has been made easier with a small cast, one set and a good script, he said.

"There's a hooker involved and there's drugs and there's thievery," he said. "There are people on the margins of life, so when you're dealing with them, the challenge is to make people like them, want to see them and spend time with them."

Doug Newell, who plays Gary, found not getting lost in the jokes the hardest part. He wants his character's human side to shine rather than to be a punchline.

Newell has also won awards for his work and has been in "An Impending Rupture of the Belly" and "Back of the Throat" with Furious Theatre. He has been very involved with improvisational comedy as well. He identifies with some aspects of his character.

"Gary cares a lot about his family and enough about his friends to share this, what could be a potentially embarrassing and crazy moment in his life," Newell said. "He sees himself as a businessman and he can, while making a profit off the holiday season, find the joy in it as well."

Newell finds Christmas a romantic time and is pleased to be doing a seasonal show that offers more opportunity for men than the usual fare. While growing up in Houston, he experienced what could have been his worst Christmas, but it turned out to be his best. He was in middle school and the pipes froze and burst at his family's home.

"We spent the night in a hotel room and my parents had to scramble to find new gifts to give us," Newell said. "As a kid it's generally all about the presents, but it still seemed like Christmas, being there with my family."

Pescovitz didn't celebrate Christmas growing up,but after the theater company board approached him to direct the play and, after reading the script, he readily agreed.

"For me, it really is a play about family and redemption and about hope and faith and recapturing innocence and those are universal issues," Pescovitz said. "It's entertaining, so . . . the holiday is immaterial."

Both Pescovitz and Newell agree that "The Night Before Christmas" could become an annual show for Furious Theatre. It is a humorous ensemble piece with just the right style for the company: edgy and contemporary.

"We're calling it an adult holiday fare, but I think it's almost redundant if you put the `Furious Holiday Show' in front of it," Newell said.

Pescovitz will continue teaching acting at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in Hollywood through December. In January, he will return to work with Furious Theatre to prepare its next show, "Hunter Gatherers," opening Jan. 24.

"The Night Before Christmas" is "an opportunity to see what we do," he said. "There is some adult language in it, but there's no violence. `Rocknrolla' is out there now, a Guy Ritchie movie, if you like that kind of work, that kind of British mob comedy stuff. It's just a nice way to get acquainted with the Furious Theatre Company."