Of all the holiday-themed plays and musicals in New York this season, none are likely to be as unexpectedly delightful and whimsical as An Enola Gay Christmas, Doug Field's new play at Altered Stages.
While often ridiculously funny and always just plain ridiculous, An Enola Gay Christmas is a campy yet frequently ingenious takeoff on television holiday specials. This one is being hosted by Enola Gay Tibbets, the woman whose son named his plane after her and then dropped the world's first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Her personal reputation has never recovered, and she wants to clear her name once and for all using the television airwaves.
As determined as she is to move on with her life, she certainly has a hard time letting go of her notoriety: she rewrites the lyrics to familiar songs (both holiday and musical theatre) to reference the bomb, invites guests to offer their own recollections about those events, and instructs in the preparation of traditional holiday dishes with her own special World War II twists, often with the aid of a microwave so overpowered and oversized it can cause even hot chocolate to glow in the dark.
Dana Snyder has directed the play with frenetic eagerness, Steve Johnson's set depicting Enola Gay's house is the perfect combination of homey and kitschy, and the music direction of Patrick Blindauer (the onstage "elf" who accompanies Enola Gay's stories and songs with synthesized music of varying levels of appropriateness) keeps the atmosphere as light and bubbly as its central figure.
June Bug is never a drag as Enola Gay, making the most of her comedy, dancing and singing with an infectious aplomb, and keeping the audience's spirits high whether she's accidentally stabbing a guest, fulfilling her television commercial obligations, or snorting cocaine from her plastic building block model of the Nativity. (Despite that, it should be mentioned that the play is in no way offensive to Christmas or any religious sensibilities its audience may possess; it's just out to have a good time.) Nan Schmid is riotously sharp and funny herself as Enola Gay's guests: a Japanese woman intimately affected by the bomb, a Mexican cleaning leady with a direct connection to the original New Mexico atomic experiments, and Enola Gay's next-door neighbor.
It's only when Schmid emerges in that last guise, as Anita Bryant, that the play loses its droll comic uniqueness. The rest of the show seems so effortless that when Field, Snyder, and the actors have to expend additional effort to make this material funny, it lands like a lead weight. While that doesn't allow the play to end on the boisterous, buoyant note it starts with, it is only a small part of the hour-long play.
That's exactly the right amount of time for a show like this to state its joke, tell it, spin a variation or two, and then be gone before it wears out its welcome. Like the heaping helpings of food dressing so many tables this season, An Enola Gay Christmas only leaves you wanting more.
An Enola Gay Christmas