[MetroActive Stage]

[ Stage Index | San Francisco | MetroActive Central | Archives ]

Photograph by Dave Lepori

Lending a Hand: Bob Greene (left) and Kevin Kennedy deal in skeletal relics in Michael Hollinger's medieval farce, 'Incorruptible.'

Comfort and Joy

Alternative holiday fare still celebrates seasonal sentiments at downtown's City Lights and San Jose Stage Company

By Heather Zimmerman

CITY LIGHTS THEATER COMPANY prides itself on forgoing traditional holiday shows, and sometimes the holidays altogether, as it did with last year's production of The Miser. This time around, however, the company tackles all things holiday head-on with a collection of short plays about the season. The first act consists of Stocking Stuffers, six short works that City Lights commissioned from local playwrights. The selection is wide-ranging in style and subject matter, although comedy generally reigns supreme.

Some vignettes ring truer than others. Harley and Handel, a tell-all session between a mother and her gay pastry chef son, has some good ideas, but it's hard to believe that the worst symptom of Mom's latent homophobia is distaste for her son's pink-frosted gingerbread men. A more successful foray into familial love overcoming holiday strife is Chanukah Butch, a winning tale about love and compromise. White Elephant offers a fun fantasy about a gift that is literally from hell.

The second act is dedicated to The Santaland Diaries, a monologue by author David Sedaris about his time working as an elf in New York in the Macy's annual holiday extravaganza known as Santaland. Actor John Michael Beck and director Molly Parker hilariously mine the myriad humiliations of grown-ups paid to wear loudly striped tights and christen themselves with names like Crumpet; they effectively highlight the fact that here in one spangled orgy of relentless seasonal joy dwells all the Christmas spirit that money can buy. The play does an excellent job using that idea to skewer this most materialistic time of year. Sometimes, however, Beck overplays Sedaris' disgust, and he comes off as too condescending. Sedaris, in the end, seems to have felt obliged to inject a note of optimism by throwing in a cameo appearance by what just may be the real deal in the Santa department. It's a candy-coated surprise in an otherwise deliciously tart monologue, which turns suddenly a little too sweet. Of course, if Sedaris had really thought the holidays to be all so much humbug, he probably wouldn't have seen so much in the Santaland spectacle to ridicule in the first place.

Not unlike the ruthless marketing forces behind Santaland, the monks in Michael Hollinger's medieval farce, Incorruptible, learn the power of packaging. San Jose Stage Company's holiday offering concerns a group of resourceful 13th-century French monks who dig up some "miracles" to save their foundering monastery. When the good brothers of the Priseaux monastery cross paths with a cunning minstrel, the monks find a Machiavellian way to fill their empty offering plate. Poverty, after all, not only leaves the priests starving, but their needy parishioners, too. So the brothers get into the relic business, furnishing--for a fee--churches across Europe with the highly prized bones of saints, all found, oddly enough, in the Priseaux monastery's very own churchyard.

A comedy about grave-robbing monks may sound like so much sacrilege to some, but Incorruptible is far from faithless. As in most farces, the play is all about perceptions, both true and false, although the issue underlying the high jinks seems more profound. Hollinger undertakes a surprisingly serious exploration of the concept of faith--and not solely the religious variety. Still, as complex the subject is, silliness abounds, from bad religious jokes to door-slamming chases. At times, Kit Wilder's direction gets a little carried away, playing the comedy a little too broadly. But a farce is a farce, of course, and this silly, slap-happy meditation on faith in all its forms makes for a fun holiday show.

Stocking Stuffers/The Santaland Diaries plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 7pm through Dec. 21 at City Lights Theater, 529 S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $16-$22 (408.295.4200). Incorruptible plays Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm through Dec. 22 at the San Jose Stage Company, 490 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $16-$36 (408.283.7142).

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

[ Silicon Valley | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

From the December 5-11, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

Foreclosures - Real Estate Investing
San Jose.com Real Estate