Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)
December 10, 2011
The Rogue in AKT Theatre Project, Reviews, holiday'11

For viewers who can’t choose just one Christmas classic, there’s Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) (by Michael Carleton, Jim Fitzgerald, and John K. Alvarez). As presented by young company The AKT Theatre Project, with direction by Angie Kane Ferrante, this whirlwind tour plugs directly into the mainframe of favorite Christmas culture and media, in an exhaustive visual smorgasbord of holiday greatest hits. Dwelling in lightness and peppered with self-effacing humor, the result is a hyper-manic experience that feels like all of Christmas flashing before one’s eyes.

In a quick setup/premise maneuver, traditional Jon Pigott’s insistence on yet again performing A Christmas Carol is overruled by compatriots Jeremy St. Martin and Jack Hundley, who open the floor to suggestions for favorite Christmas traditions, movies and TV specials, and stories. What follows is a cavalcade of beloved holiday classics, as well as a handful of bumpers, including descriptions of worldwide Christmas lore that clash disturbingly with America’s jolly consumer paradise. No holiday favorite is sacred, be it a copyrighted ninth reindeer or a magically animate snowman or the mathematically improbable feats of jolly old St. Nicholas himself, and it becomes clear how deeply ingrained these stories are when a single moment or visual communicates the thing as a whole, or when two of the best-known tales are mashed together in a second act lightning round. Hundley, Pigott, and St. Martin are tireless in their pursuits and entirely willing to make fools of themselves as the occasion warrants; rarely does a moment pass in which there isn’t something new and elaborately goofy to take in.

The play and players’ many feats are complemented and enhanced by unending homemade properties and costumes of pure invention; often, the visuals are poised to land at least as hard as any spoken punchline. Along with the minimally invasive setting, the costumes and properties are credited to the team of director and cast, and it shows in their superb fit to the needs of each scene and the limitations and unusual opportunities provided by the large playing space within the Wyandotte Arts Center. The huge space is met by huge lighting design by Harley Miah and an equally huge offstage crew of board and spotlight operators. The ambitious and thorough design elements gamely offset the humorously makeshift feel of the impromptu play, making the overall visual effect among the most rewarding of this painstakingly crafted production.

For all its efficient flow, the show doesn’t concern itself with overall coherence; instead, stories and themes appear fully formed before the audience and then disappear, parade-style — up to and including an actual Thanksgiving/Christmas parade. Yet for all the teamwork implicit in such an offing, there’s a dearth of collaboration in the offing; more often than not, one performer establishes his chosen installment, and the others simply oblige. The production refuses to dwell on any interaction or joke, in evident dedication to speed and pacing that restricts the overstuffed script to an agreeable running time (less than two hours, including an intermission). By keeping the emphasis on constantly generating stimuli, Ferrante restricts her performers somewhat to be mere vehicles for content, but the comic conveyor belt approach has its own appeal as well as payoffs to spare.

This Every Christmas Story is geared toward viewers who primarily seek theater mischief, but want to stay mindful of the season. The bloated medley/montage approach doesn’t pretend to successfully deliver any of the dozens of heartfelt holiday messages at the core of its exhaustive sources; rather, the ornate and galloping production and its vigorous trio of participants pokes fun at the holiday’s rampant overexposure in a way that concurrently allows the exuberance of the season to shine through.

Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) is no longer playing.
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