And yes, somewhere in the midst of all the politically incorrect comedy, there is even a little nugget of Christmas cheer and magic, appearing like a diamond from coal.
Watching A Broken Christmas Carol, all I could think of were those old Fractured Fairy Tales that used to run between cliffhangers in Rocky and Bullwinkle. This was a good thing (sometimes too much of a good thing). The Fractured segments used sight gags, clever twists stuffed with puns, and a minimalist approach to animation. This play (a combination of three interlocking one-acts by different playwrights) mostly follows that formula.
You see, A Broken Christmas Carol is cartoonish, from the characters (particularly Tiny Tim and Iggie) to the props (cardboard cutouts, all hand drawn): even the set itself, a giant book which flips open to reveal individual curtains (pages), each of which turn to reveal the backdrop. The effect is like a giant comic book, with live action superimposed over it. The sight gags cannot help but be painfully apparent (as with Iggie’s prophetic “doom,” scrawled onto his forehead by a malicious Sharpie), nor can the minimalism in such an off-off Broadway theater be avoided. (It can only be used well, and it is.) The only thing lacking are the puns (thankfully, with the exception of the mispronounced “Crotches”)—the scripts manage to be clever enough without them. The one exception is Kendra Levin’s offering, a boisterously ranting piece that, despite a beautiful closure and some subtle jokes, cannot help being overtaken by the manic energy of Iggie. The plot is overshadowed by individual monologues that, aside from all sounding alike, string together even looser than the one-acts themselves.
It’s difficult to give cartoon characters dramatic range, especially in a comedy, and yet J. Holtham’s piece, the strongest of the three, somehow manages. I suspect it’s mostly on the strength of William Jackson Harper, who manages to find the varying notes of his characters. In this piece, he plays DeWayne, a dead spirit visiting his old ghetto buddy Shawn (Keith Arthur Bolden: a little stiff, but a good straight man) before heading over to Mr. S’s (that’s Scrooge, by the way; yes, he’s one of those ghosts). In the final piece, by James Christy, he plays a television host; the two roles are written with a similar upbeat and sardonic wit, as if in a playful hurricane of language, and yet Harper doesn’t even seem to break a sweat. A lot of respect also to Aly Wirth, who not only finds the serious side of Maddie (DeWayne’s white girlfriend) but the playful side of the stripper-daughter Martha (in Christy’s play). As the old maxim goes, if you’ve got it, flaunt it: and always smile when you dance.
In all, A Broken Christmas Carol has something for everyone: anti-Christmas vindictive presented like a stand-up comedy with narrative, serio-comedic misadventures as X-Mas comes to the hood, and physical comedy when the Cratchit family tries to win a Reality TV contest as the ‘most neediest’ family. Even when jokes go bad (“God bless us, everyone,” spoken in parody every time, as if the intonation were trademarked), the pace stays up-tempo and the jokes keep coming, just like the Fractured Fairy Tales of old. And yes, somewhere in the midst of all the politically incorrect comedy, there is even a little nugget of Christmas cheer and magic, appearing like a diamond from coal. So stuff your stockings and have a wicked little Christmas.
Michael Weller Theater (311 West 43rd Street; 6th Floor; Suite 602)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $19.00
Schedule (Closing 12/30): Monday, Wednesday-Saturday @ 8:00; Sunday @ 7:00; Saturday @ 3:00
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.