Christmas Rapping

Ten new short plays explore the Santa season's troubling head games

It pits two small-town, big-haired mamas named December and Summer (Lysandra Dial-Meek and Melanie Puckett) against each other for the role of Mary in the nativity play. What starts out with a couple of semi-promising laugh lines--"Red's the color of Satan and whores...I learned that in New York," snaps Summer--quickly disintegrates into a slapsticky mess that has a dirty-minded priest (Chapman Locke) tripping out on PCP-laced cookies and December's redneck husband, Earl (Jeff Fenter), admitting to gay fantasies. If he's trying for Texana Christopher Durang, playwright De Leon instead delivers clangy, twangy schlock.

Along those same fault lines, Minor Revelation by Reg Platt is more of a major annoyance. Platt has written a parable about St. John (Chapman Locke again, doing his best to rise above the material) penning a gospel that includes some dire warnings from the Big Guy about overcommercializing the birth of Our Lord. John's messages are communicated through a mute angel (Denise Jackson, forced to act out her lines like a hyperactive charades contestant). Enter the now-aged Mary (Carolyn Wickwire) to retell the story of the nativity and bemoan the omissions from the already-written versions of Jesus' life. "Nobody mentioned his bar mitzvah," she says wistfully.

Nothing goes right with Minor Revelation, not when Platt types groaners like, "You can't really live on bread alone--oh, that's good. I've gotta write that down." Oh, if only Platt hadn't. And later, asked if Jesus will be returning for the Second Coming, Mary says, "That's my assumption."

From left to right, Chapman Locke, Melanie Puckett, Jeff Fenter and Lysandra Dial-Meek plan a nutty nativity in The Best Christmas Ever.
Peter Calvin
From left to right, Chapman Locke, Melanie Puckett, Jeff Fenter and Lysandra Dial-Meek plan a nutty nativity in The Best Christmas Ever.

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Through December 22; 214-943-5120
Bath House Cultural Center

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The last play of the night is Iggy and Louis by Jim Tyler Anderson, a thoroughly predictable scenario about homeless people begging holiday shoppers for handouts. Iggy (Wickwire), decked out in layers of theatrically faux rags, rants about alien rays attacking her brain through her foil helmet (oh, please). Her pal, mentally challenged Louis (Locke again, working with the rotten script as best he can), sings carols in that sickeningly childlike manner that's supposed to be poignant but actually induces cringing. Once again, a playwright confuses his assignment (even for a 10-minute play) with the pat, formulaic shtick churned out by exhausted Saturday Night Live sketch writers.

Maybe it's the TV-scene lengths of most of these plays that keep them from being more substantial or memorable. Only Cheatwood and Knapp succeed at framing their messages in a live-theater format. The rest end up with a mishmash of limp punch lines and zero-to-hysterical emotional uproars performed by actors who appear to be auditioning for sitcoms and soap operas and not simply acting for the audience an arm's length away.

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