By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle ©
Christmas on the Rocks, is a belly-laugh-a- minute holiday comedy that can be enjoyed even if one is celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus. Its run has been extending by popular demand and is now playing through December 23 at Theaterworks in Hartford, CT.
The show satirically visits favorite childhood characters – Tiny Tim (A Christmas Carol), Olga (The Nutcracker), Charlie Brown (Snoopy), Karen (Frosty the Snowman), Ralphie (A Christmas Story), Hermie (Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer) and Zuzu (It’s A Wonderful Life) – in a bar on Christmas Eve somewhere in a shabby corner of the universe.
Now all grown up, each character tells the sympathetic attentive bar owner their respective cares and woes of life after the glory days of fame and fortune as kid stars came crashing down.
Tom Bloom* plays the bartender as a world-weary soul who has seen it all, yet still has kind words to offer to each of the manic and weird visitors who walk through his door. The barman is onstage throughout the show (90 minutes, no intermission) and is the bright holiday ribbon that keeps the seven scenes seamlessly tied together. Mr. Bloom’s believable portrayal of a calm regular guy surrounded by mayhem and insanity is highly applaudable.
Having premiered at Theaterworks in 2013, this fifth edition of Christmas On The Rocks is once again directed by the indefatigable Rob Ruggiero, who also has been the Producing Artistic Director of the theater since 2012. This edition’s diverse comic scenes have been written by playwrights John Cariani, Jacques Lamarre, Jeffrey Hatcher, Theresa Rybeck, Edwin Sanchez and the newest writing team of Jenn Harris* and Matthew Wilkas*.
Ms. Harris and Mr. Wilkas are also brilliant comedic actors who play multiple roles and wear all the funny hats, wigs, costumes, dresses, tights, pajamas and pointy shoes in this uproarious show. Jenn Harris plays all the women’s parts – from a Russian Ballerina and a murderous Internet Star – to a mentally challenged adult girl in jammies who hears bells everywhere.
Matthew Wilkas gets into the spirit of the thing with his portrayal of a bitter, cynical Tiny Tim; a deranged Elf who fancies himself to be a dentist whose arch-enemy is a reindeer with a bright shiny nose; and a middle-aged sad sack in a failed marriage who exclaims “Good Grief!” as often as possible. These two actors are superb – each has the kind of rubber face, comic timing and infinite variety of vocal characteristics and accents that creates a laugh fest from opening to curtain call.
The bar set, designed by Michael Schwiekardt, is typical of the bygone tacky rundown neighborhood bars in big cities that were patronized by alcoholics and depressives. It’s the perfect showcase for these wacky characters to tell their stories and drown their sorrows.
Alejo Vietti has designed recognizable costumes to easily identify each cartoon/movie childhood character. Mark Adam Rampmeyer has bewigged each of the 8 familiar holiday characters to perfection. (Tom Bloom wears his own hair!) Clear sound thanks to the engineering of Michael Miceli and the bright interior bar lighting by John Lasiter add to the enjoyment of a glowing night in the theater. Production Manager Bridget Sullivan and Stage Manager Kate J. Cudworth make sure that the snow falls where it’s supposed to, and the booze bottles and beer taps are filled each night.
This is one of those shows that would be ruined by a too-much-information review. The words “spoiler alert” come to mind. Knowing more than necessary about the wacky show before seeing it would spoil the surprise.
It’s a holiday tradition to which you’ll go to experience lots and lots of laugh-out-loud moments. It’s not too far-fetched to say that if Santa himself bought a ticket to Christmas On The Rocks he’d belly-laugh his way all through the performance. This show contains strong language and some sexual content. Recommended for ages 16 and up – not for the kiddies!
Final throught: “Christmas on the Rocks” is the holiday gift that keeps on giving long after the final curtain. If you need some good cheer, it’s not to be missed.
Tickets and showtimes through December 23 can be found at www.theaterworkshartford.org or call the box office at 860-527-7838. Theaterworks Hartford is located at 233 Pearl Street in downtown Hartford, CT. Affordable parking behind the theater. Get ready for a ho-ho-ho of a time!
*indicates member of Actors Equity Association