If there’s a running theme in this year’s entries in N47 Theatre’s A Very Nouveau Holiday mini-fest at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park, it’s that Christmas just isn’t the same after Mom dies. Or if you’re stuck at the airport with the Abominable Snowman. Or if a comic book super hero can’t bring you out of your coma. You know, the usual fa-la-la-derol.
Of the 90 scripts submitted to N47 (formerly Nouveau 47 Theatre) for this festival, 10 were picked to put on the stage, each about 10 minutes long. A couple of the scripts are real standouts, though you’ll sit through some Debbie Downers (about the dead moms) to get to the good stuff. And they are Scrooge-budget productions. A few chairs and a folding table or two make up the scenery. Six actors zip in and out of each of the shows. Alex Bigus, Jim Kuenzer, Rebecca McDonald and Nic McMinn share directing credit. Erin Singleton produced all of it.
Kuenzer’s It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Christmas, directed by McMinn, is the best of the night, a lighthearted send-up of classic comic book scenarios. Little Timmy (Maya Pearson), the “smartest child on earth,” has been rendered comatose by evil genius Professor Ennui (Brian Witkowicz). Coming to the rescue is valiant Captain Hero (Maxim Overton), whose super powers are sapped by the villain. But wait, can any evil vanquish the power of Christmas? Why, no! Kuenzer’s writing is as crisp and sweet as good cider. The actors, including Andra Laine Hunter as a plucky nurse, chew what little scenery there is and get big laughs with the whimsical dialogue, which briefly is interrupted by a short ad for Chesterfield cigarettes.
Brad McEntire’s The Yeti in the Airport Lounge, directed by Kuenzer, finds a chatty woman (Hunter) stuck in a waiting lounge next to a patient Arizona-bound Himalayan snowbeast (DeWayne Blundell in head-to-paw white fur). Yeti listens as his fellow traveler unloads her woes in a rapid-fire monologue about a wayward boyfriend, her fear of going back home alone for the holidays and her personal issues about control and abandonment. Yeti never says a word, just offers the lady a juice box and a big fuzzy shoulder to cry on. A little dance party erupts. A friendship is made. And McEntire’s playlet reminds us that anonymous airport oversharing sometimes helps pass the time between flights.
Winslow Family Christmas…and Kyle by Greg Silva is a clever but mildly daughter-bashing sketch that has a mom (Hunter) and dad (Witkowicz) welcoming their girl Rebecca (Pearson) home for the holidays with her boyfriend Kyle (Overton). He’s eager to propose, but when the ladies are in the kitchen, Dad torments nervous Kyle with reasons why he’s not worthy of marrying his offspring. Mostly, Dad believes Kyle hasn’t invested enough time in the relationship, not in comparison with all those tedious years of fathering. “I have watched Pocahontas 77 times,” groans Dad. “Ever been to Build-A-Bear on Valentine’s Day? I have. Eleven times. Do you know how to French braid?” Sounds like somebody’s sorry he never had a son. But wouldn’t a son-in-law suffice?
Kris Noteboom’s Selling Santa, directed by Kuenzer, starts with a strong premise — a couple of slick branding experts (Blundell and Overton) show up at the North Pole to tell Santa (Witkowicz) they’re buying his trademark out from under him. But the script wobbles as Santa turns the tables by telling the men how they’ve been naughty and nice, reminding them that only he can know what they really want for Christmas. And it’s not a Santa-robbing hostile takeover.
Bearded Witkowicz plays Elf on a Shelf in Elf Help by Jared Seman, directed by McMinn. Again, cute premise. What do those tiny shelf elves see from their perches? In this sketch, “Winky” spies on Dad (Blundell) looking at naughty pix on the laptop. That leads to an elfin interrogation: “Any drugs in the house? Any unsecured firearms?”
Scattered between all these are the more sentimental scripts about what’s lost from holiday traditions when loved ones are gone. Dot’s Nachos by Shelby-Allison Hibbs jumps from year to year as Dot (Hunter) serves her kids (Bonnie Mitchell, Blundell and Pearson) inedible platters of nachos topped with catfish, beets and marshmallows. Nobody wants them until Dot’s no longer there to share the ghastly snacks. Cue the sad music.
Depression, death and a suicide attempt are featured in Maybe It’s You by Collin Miller, A Musing on the Holidays by Kevin Fuld, Last Christmas by Matthew James Edwards and No Season by Ben Schroth. They land like lumps of coal between the other more polished scenes. Or maybe 10 minutes of darker stuff just makes the lighter ones glow a bit brighter.
A Very Nouveau Holiday continues through December 28 at the Margo Jones Theatre, Fair Park, 1121 First Ave. Tickets are pay-what-you-can December 27-28.