Even the most generous person can't help but look for a bargain when shopping for Christmas presents. It seems to be part and parcel with this magic season. While 2 for 1 may sound like a good deal, the WorkShop Theater Company raises the stakes even more, providing the audience with not one, not two, but three plays for the price of one. Technically, one of these is more of a cabaret, and is referred to as a "Prelude" in the program, but it is one of three distinct pieces that make up a delightful evening of holiday cheer.
The Prelude provides a comfortable way to ease the audience into the Christmas spirit. Set at a party, a group of friends celebrates the season and sings eight fun and occasionally touching songs. The strongest of the eight feature not only wonderful music and lyrics, but showcase some remarkable singing and acting talent. This is no doubt why director Kathleen Brant choses to work live music into the entire production. The highlights of the Prelude are Gordy Pratt's 'I'm a Present,' sung by the delightful Richard Kent Green, Jodie Bentley's sexy vamping to 'Santa, Take Me for a Ride in Your Sleigh' by Brent Hardesty, and Kelly Campbell's lovely and touching version of Cori Connors' 'You Would Have Loved This.' While two of the other songs are not as strong, Lauren Mayer's 'The Fruitcake that Ate New Jersey' and 'It's Snowing' by John O. A. Pagano, they feature two performers, Bruce Barton and Tom DelPizzo, respectively, who more than make up for it. Barton is a powerhouse; DelPizzo is a whirling dervish of energy. The Prelude also features some lovely violin playing by Ken Linsk.
DelPizzo makes an immediate return as Jim, the owner of a very fine pocketwatch in Andrew Joffe's adaptation of The Gift of the Magi. Jodie Bentley plays his wife with the beautiful hair, Della. Richard Kent Green is the Porter, the narrator of the tale. The play is a fairly good retelling of O. Henry's story, though, as is the case with most plays where nearly everyone in the audience knows how it will end, it lacks a certain dramatic tension. Luckily, Bentley's portrayal of Della is charming and full of wide-eyed wonder; when caught up in her enthusiasm, it's easy to forget, for a moment, where the play is going. Brant's staging of the play, particularly the final tableau in which Jim and Della embrace as the lights fade, is strong and effective.
The final play of the evening, Joffe's adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle tale, The Blue Carbuncle with Sherlock Holmes, is not what one would normally think of as a Christmas standard. Odd as it may seem, however, it works. This is primarily due to Todd Butera as the jovial Watson and Paul Singleton as Sherlock Holmes. A little Basil Rathbone and a little Jeremy Brett, Singleton's Holmes is a bit more human than he is often portrayed. The mystery is cute, though contrived. Holmes and Watson try to help a plumber (Ken Linsk) who has been accused of stealing a rare blue garnet or carbuncle. When the garnet turns up in the gullet of a Christmas goose, Holmes and Watson must use deduction and observation to find out how it got there and what it could mean. While perhaps not Arthur Conan Doyle's most complicated mystery, The Blue Carbuncle is enjoyable nonetheless.
Stefani Nicole Oxman's simple set, featuring two platforms, chairs and stools, and large lighted flats with city scenes on them, works equally well for all three portions of the evening's entertainment. Anna Gerdes, the costume designer, is to be commended for costuming a large cast in three different periods and places – modern, Victorian London, and turn of the century New York.
The Gift of the Magi & The Blue Carbuncle with Sherlock Holmes may not be the most innovative production one can see this Christmas season, but it delivers good solid entertainment, and after a hard day's shopping, that can be a wonderful treat.
(The Gift of the Magi & The Blue Carbuncle with Sherlock Holmes also features Kate Andres, Michael Gnat, and John Lonoff.)
Copyright 2007 by Byrne Harrison
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