Thursday, August 22, 2019

Play Review: Christmas Thieves

You need a break from all the holiday shopping and preparation, the busy shifts at work or maybe you just want a night of entertainment before the real craziness kicks in with the Christmas rush, when the whole family shows up with fruit cake and cheap eggnog.
Crested Butte Mountain Theatre has just the thing for you—a lively, short (45 minutes, one act!), feel-good and fun comedy called Christmas Thieves. It’s a play within a play and sort of Garrison Keillor goes on a date with the BBC to see A Christmas Carol. The play runs at the Mallardi Cabaret December 16-20 and December 22-23 at 7:30 p.m., with a special 4 p.m. matinee on December 21.
Set in the heartland on a wintry Christmas Eve, the play opens in a radio station studio with the D.J., Bjorn Gundlarrsen (Chase Rockwell), in the air chair announcing to his audience that they’re listening to Bunyon county’s only continuous polka music station with all the polka hits, all the time, WCHZ (yes, “W- CHEESE”).
The station needs to raise funds for a new antenna and equipment to stay on the air but apparently, even though the townspeople of Yule are predominantly of polka ilk, the fund drive has so far raised only $100 of the $1,000 required to receive a matching grant and stay afloat.
The station’s major sponsors are Saltzpeter Urinal Cakes and Essen’s all-vegetable, Healthy Choice Kielbasa (“All the flavor of pork without the pig!”). The biggest advertiser is old man Saltzpeter (Rich Driscoll), who enters with his snappy suit and cane and whose sinister nature is evident. He wants to change the genre of the station from all polka to all disco (gasp, no!). He makes it clear that if the goal of $1,000 isn’t met at the end of the night, he’s taking over the station and there’ll be no more oompah.
In the back room, volunteer Cub Scout Pack 29 is manning the silent phones to take the pledges but they’re just getting noisier with nothing to do as time progresses. Bjorn is counting on a Radio Roadshow performance by a traveling group of British actors called Masterpiece Players to pump up the pledges. The group had been escorted to lunch by the town mayor, Rosie (Melanie Hall), but seems to be running a bit late. Meanwhile the station tech, Mac (Kristen Joyce), is setting up microphones and scripts for the Brits’ performance with little to say about anything except in the form of monosyllabic words and near-grunts. Madge (Harmony Dawson) the janitor comes in and rattles off a complex and lengthy list of everything she’s cleaned.
Bjorn is distracted and becoming exponentially distressed as to the whereabouts of his London troupe when Rosie enters, bundled for Antarctica, and tells Bjorn that the players have succumbed to an unfortunate fate stemming from the ingestion of the local cuisine—Norwegian pork rinds and lutefisk at Versland’s Diner (where “lard is a side dish”)—and now they were paying homage to The Great Viking God of Porcelain and Tile. With only five minutes before the players were to go on the air live, Bjorn gets the desperate idea that he, Madge, Mac and Rosie would do the show, complete with live sound effects executed by Madge. Taking cues from a dialect book, “Sounding English and Getting Away With It,” they affect accents and take their places just as the On Air light signals.
As they fall into their characters, the story, “The Thieves Who Couldn’t Help Sneezing,” unfolds about a young man who gets robbed in the woods on his way home on Christmas Eve, his horse stolen, he’s left tied and bound to find his way home in the cold winter night. Upon seeing the lights of a house in the distance, he makes his way over to it. The ensuing events of both the story being told and the newly anglophiled actors unravel into hilarity.
Christmas Thieves is a sweet and simple plot with lots of clever plays on words. There is some very obvious Lake Wobegon/Prairie Home Companion humor geared toward Scandinavian-American culture and those Dakotans with good sensibilities in an oh-sure-you-betcha dialog. It’s written by New York City playwright Greg Oliver Bodine. The story of “The Thieves Who Couldn’t Help Sneezing” is a comedic adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s story written in 1877 and originally from “Father Christmas Annual.”

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