by Mark G. Auerbach
When I saw Christmas on the Rocks, TheaterWorks’ new holiday “tradition” last year, I missed a lot of the details, because I was constantly in hysterical laughter. So, it’s a welcome opportunity to revisit the production with the same cast and creative team, and a couple of new twists.
In a brisk ninety minutes of adult comedy–this one’s not for the kids–we find out what happened to Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol, Ralphie from A Christmas Story, Little Susan from Miracle on 34th Street, Clara from The Nutcracker, Hermey from Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Charlie Brown, and more. The now adult characters wander into a bar on Christmas Eve, nicely designed by Michael Schwelkardt and lit by John Lasiter.
When Christmas on The Rocks is funny, as in the playlets about Hermey and Clara, it’s ROFL funny. But this show has a lot of heart, and the playlet about little Susan from Miracle on 34th Street, for example, has a lot of soul. The Charlie Brown playlet borders on the sentimental.
Rob Ruggiero, TheaterWorks Artistic Director, came up with this concept: find eight contemporary playwrights and ask them to update some holiday stage and screen characters. Ruggiero directs the off-beat comedy which is sometimes wise, always funny, and one of the best entertainments I’ve laughed my way through in a while. Almost as funny as the characters are their costumes by Aleto Vieti. and wigs by by Mark Adam Rampeyer.
The playwrights are (John Cariani (the star of Broadway’s Something Rotten, a StageWest alum, and author of Almost Maine) ,cast members Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas who collaborated on a playlet; Jeffrey Hatcher (Never Gonna Dance on Broadway), Jacques Lamarre (Hartford local who has written many shows for Varla Jean Merman), Theresa Rebeck (NBC’s Smash), Edwin Sanchez (Diary of a Puero Rican Demigod) and Jonathan Tolins (Buyer and Cellar,).
Ronn Carroll is great as the bartender, and Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas are terrific as the many characters brought to life as adults. I loved Wilkas’ over-the-top elf, and Harris’ Nutcracker heroine Clara.
Christmas On The Rocks is fun and satisfying on so many levels, and TheaterWorks has become one of our area’s great entertainment resources. It only plays through December 23.
TheaterWorks presents “Christmas on The Rocks” conceived and directed by Rob Ruggiero.. Playlets by John Cariani, Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas, Jeffrey Hatcher, Jacques Lamarre, Theresa Rebeck, Edwin Sanchez and Jonathan Tolins. Scenic design by Michael Schwelkardt. Costume design by Aleto Vieti. Lighting design by John Lasiter. Sound design by Michael Miceli. Wigs by Mark Adam Rampeyer. Cast: Jenn Harris, Ron Carroll, and Matt Wilkas. Through December 23. TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford, CT. For tickets: 860-527-7838 or www.theaterworkshartford.org.
Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio.