Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some!)
Also see Scott's review of Mrs. Doubtfire
As the show's title suggests and its creators envisioned, it's a mashup of stories, legends, pop characters, and more things that are familiar to audiences, but generously and manically salted with in-the-moment references and local jokes. It's presented with the classic theatre company's tongue firmly in the cheeks of the four spirited and comic performers who spend the better part of two hours poking fun at Scrooge, Dr. Seuss's Grinch, Charlie Brown, Rudolf, Dylan Thomas, The Nutcracker, It's a Wonderful Life, and others.
In fact, Cincy Shakes has been presenting editions of this show for 17 years. It never grows old, thanks to the inventive mind of veteran performer Jeremy Dubin, who has directed annually almost since its very first iteration. He has excelled at refreshing it every year with timely humor and antic action tailored to the specific talents of the actors in his cast. This time around, his merry band of mischief makers features Geoffrey Warren Barnes II, Cary Davenport, Candice Handy, and Colleen Dougherty.
The performance begins with Dougherty as "Drunk Santa," coquettishly addressing the audience in a sexy get-up that would surely not meet the North Pole's dress code. (Rainy Edwards has designed zany attire for each actor.) Dougherty settles into a sleigh at stage left with an ample supply of White Claw hard seltzer, occasionally pitching empty cans to the stage floor. From there she provides a steady stream of wry observations and sarcastic remarks about the action. She returns after the 20-minute intermission to provide sassy answers to questions submitted by audience members before Scrooge's nightmares and George Bailey's wonderful life are spun into a madcap finale.
Handy serves as the steadfast, traditional Dickens promoter: From start to almost finish, she tries to bring the direction of the show back to Dickens' classic, helplessly repeating, "Marley was dead ..." before being pulled down yet another comic rabbit hole. Her antagonists are loud Davenport with attention deficit and suave Barnes, who insists he's just had one drink ("A really big one!"). Once these two rowdies highjack the show from Handy's futile effort to get back to Dickens, the entire set flips around to an eye-popping, hyper-decorated, flashing-light environment designed by Justin N. Locke. It includes a fake fireplace, a wreath that falls down repeatedly, and stage illumination that can be activated with "clap-on/clap-off" gestures. The players fling themselves in and out the stage doors as if they were in a French farce, often appearing just seconds later wearing a ridiculous wig or something completely totally silly. If they encounter any difficulties, they ask, "Please give me a hand." The inevitable response, soon picked up by the audience, is to clap.
Audience interaction is the show's byword, some planned and some simply ad-libbed in the moment. If you'd prefer to watch rather than be engaged, don't sit in the front row or in an aisle seat. Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some!) is a raucous, humorous evening for the actors and audience members alike. Even if you've attended this holiday offering in the past, you'll find fresh new bits, jokes, and laugh-out-loud moments. It's great fun to see Cincy Shakes' accomplished actors having so much fun.sha
Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some!) runs through December 30, 2023, at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, 1195 Elm Street, Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, please visit cincyshakes.com or call 513-381-2273.