Chiefly a showcase for playlets by writers from around the country, "A Very Phoenix Xmas" is the company's annual staged gathering of stocking-stuffers, directed by Bryan Fonseca and hung by the chimney with lots of care from the production team. The set was a marvel, flexibly lit to suit each segment: Great, suspended ornament globes (one of which doubled as an image screen) were counterpointed against diagonal candy-cane lines and, to the rear, a giant beribboned gift box.
Tom Horan's credit as curator speaks to what must have been much head-scratching work winnowing submissions to get the bits that would fit comfortably into the same show and make a modicum of sense in two acts. His glory is a behind-the-scenes matter, though: As contributor of sprightly dialogue for Scot Greenwell and Ryan O'Shea, cast members who introduce each act, Horan relies on forced humor, coarsely expressed, that stands a little too deeply in the shadow of the sketches and songs.
Despite the punning title, this is not a Cheech & Chong Christmas, though Duncan Pflaster's "Bring Me Flesh and Bring Me Wine" bears signs of a bad trip generated by some of the last words in Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Eric J. Olson portrays a conflicted adult Tiny Tim, granted immortality of the love-in-vein kind until he's inadvertently taken out of his deathless misery by a homeless woman, spunkily played by Lynn Wilhite.
As it unfolded Thursday night, "Bring Me Flesh and Bring Me Wine" kept its fantastic glow warm. Pflaster's caprice struck home, thanks to a message that the passing pleasures of the Christmas season, if nurtured by real love, are worth treasuring so much more than rootless wealth and no hope of closure.
|Daughter Lynn Wilhite's life is subject to scientific whims of dad Paul Hansen.|
More central, with a touch of sentimentality, was Sarah Saltwick's "Christmas Isn't Math." In this playlet, the widespread regard for the family pet isn't given a monstrous spin, but something closer to the heart than the funnybone. Simply put, a carelessly lost dog (played by Hilary Abigana) becomes a symbol of what even Santa Claus may sometimes have to sacrifice to keep someone happy.
As for the songs, Greenwell and O'Shea made merry with Garfunkel and Oates' "Present Face," a stylish duet matched by a Greenwell and Hansen excursion through Stephen Colbert's "Can I Interest You in Hanukkah?"
The latter is a lighthearted first-act interlude between two theologically challenging sketches on faith and miracles. A. Scott Freeman's "Mary's Christmas Story" recounts the Annunciation at a family dinner, in which some of the playwright's attempt at inoffensive Jewish caricature may have been missed Thursday. The explosive revelation needed to come across as a Magnficatastrophe, in which smarty-pants younger brother's smutty interpretation of the angel's visit to his sister is at least as plausible as Mary's story itself. The demands that faith makes on common sense get a more dramatically satisfying exposition in "The Light," an interpretation by Mark Harvey Levine of the Hanukkah story with a provocative contrast between the patient Adam (Olson) and the restless Moishe (Hansen), both charged with watching the flame of alamp that miraculously stays lit.
|The Fourth Wall added a fourth dimension to "Xmas 8."|
Hang those angels on the highest bough, revelers, and make your irreverent way to the Phoenix before Dec. 22.