Confetti Stage Has More Fun in “Christmastown” Than an Elf in Toyland
Confetti Stage Inc. returned to its December home, The Linda WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio, for its annual Christmas show on Friday night. Playing only two performances on the stage usually reserved for national music acts, the folks made a terrific selection this holiday with “Christmastown: A Holiday Noir” by Wayne Rawley who honored the troupe and the Capital Region with his presence on opening night. It’s a very clever and sharp mash-up of dozens of Christmas stories and lyrics and the film noir detective movies like “The Maltese Falcon” and “Out of the Past.”
The play opens with Holly Wonderland (Amanda Brinke), an elf fatale coming to private eye Nick Holiday (Stephen Henel) with a cache of photographs of Santa canoodling. Nick has already laid out his bona fides in characteristic voice-over “11 days out of 12, I can usually find what you’re looking for…unless it’s comfort and joy.” He is wary of the assignment; there’s only “two things stirring: drinks and trouble.”
Nick is off on his quest into the long dark heart of Christmas Eve and luckily for us, the search takes us to many locations: Doug Noble’s tree lot, Wonderland department store and The Gingerbread House, and a nightclub where the diva Holly keeps her torch song lit. “You won’t sleep a wink on Christmas Eve, not while you’re with me.” Settings and transitions are handled in a slapdash manner (it can’t have been easy to produce this for a stage for a two night run), but there’s usually a voice over and there are occasional glimpses of humor in the transitions like Hasson Harris Wilcher’s rotating offstage to the spinning reference. There are fun costumes without a credit in the program. Production assistant was Candice Potrafka and stage management was by Vinny Miranda.
Best of all, are the vivid characters the cast of seven get to tear into. The playwright has mined a wide vein of Christmas mythology and references to poems, songs, cartoons, books and movies happen all night long. Hasson Harris Wilcher does very fine work playing a strong arm Jangle who has difficulty conjugating, Mr. Noble (the tree salesman) and most impressively a nearly silent prison guard who has priceless reactions to mayhem in the interrogation room. John Quinan has a couple of great scenes and earns big laughs as an overgrown Tiny, found in a back alley’s back alley with a bum leg dressed in a pink bunny suit. Perhaps the costumer was looking at a different “Christmas Story.” Quinan’s back as a drunk, pants-less Santa who has one of the evening’s biggest laughs with “Wanna’ sit on my lap?” Kathryn Capalbo has a great time playing Naughty/Nice cop interrogating our candy cane licking dick. She had a nice turn as the reporter for The Christmastown Caroler, Ginny Ribbons as well. Wayne Bowmanchester has a nice set of roles as E.B. Wonderland in a blue sparkley jacket that’s its own special effect, and especially as Mrs. Claus who “smells like freshly baked sugar cookies and pain.” He does a terrific job giving us a sweet old grandmother/enforcer.
Emily Rae Fernandes has great energy, invention, and commitment and is a delight to watch onstage. She plays the other half of the strong-arm team, Jingle, with lessons on how to properly intimidate with your sentence structure. She has a brief roadside appearance as a dancing inflatable at the tree lot which is hysterical. Her Rudolph, as a cab driver who knows the way, drives a great deal of the plot. It’s been too long since I’ve seen Amanda Brinke in a play and she does a great job here with her voice pitched high as Holly and looks smashing in all her variations of red. Stephen Henel is the star of the show and this is a great part for him. It appeals to his goofy humor, off-beat charm and decidedly absurdist sensibility. He carries all the childlike wonder, adult disappointment and existential angst that the playwright packs into this overstuffed stocking.
There are three directors credited (Sean Baldwin, Cory Haines & John Nickles) and when I asked John how they came up with the plan to have three directors, his response was that they all loved the piece and so they decided to share it. The house was very full with many members of the Capital Region theater community basking in the good times of a new tale well told. That seems to be right in the Christmas spirit of giving with this new and witty Christmas alternative.