Make list, check twice: December Downtown theater

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Too many Scrooges: Chris Andrew Loar measures himself against the ghosts of Ebenezers past, in “Reid Farrington’s Christmas Carol.”

Two takes on ‘Christmas Carol’ worth seeing, 998 to avoid

BY TRAV S.D. | Happy Holidays! As everyone who’s ever been in a chain drugstore knows, “the season” begins around October 4. I was sick of it before Thanksgiving, but what are you gonna do? There’s tons of holiday-themed theatre in the works this month — and who am I to stoke a roaring blaze in the fireplace in anticipation of that jolly man’s arrival?

First, let’s get some sad news out of the way. Manhattan Theatre Source, the MacDougal Street storefront theatre that’s been in operation for over 11 years, will be closing its doors for good next month. According to MTS board member Doug Silver, “Our deficits have grown too high, and the terrible economy has badly hurt…not only the Source itself, but even more significantly the companies that we depend on to rent our theater all year long.” The company promises to continue producing their best-known project (the Estrogenius Festival) and other activities at alternative venues.

And now on to much more lighthearted business.

If you’re like me you’ll agree that the 1,000 existing theatrical adaptations of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” are 998 too many. I stopped paying attention sometime after the Mr. Magoo excursion. However, there are a pair of new versions opening this month that promise to blow the lid off this whole “Bah, Humbug!” thing. First, there’s Greg Oliver Bodine’s “A Christmas Carol, as Told by Charles Dickens (Himself)” — at the Canal Park Playhouse December 1-24. According to director David Chapman “it’s shaping up to be Dickens meets Charlie Chaplin, Willie Wonka and Jim Henson.” In this version objects become people and ghosts jump out of hiding places at the audience. The fact that the Canal Park Playhouse’s artistic director is supposedly a ventriloquist dummy according to their web site cannot be irrelevant. For more about the production (and the ventriloquist dummy) go the canalparkplayhouse.com. Also opening December 1 is “Reid Farrington’s A Christmas Carol, or Dickens the Unparalleled Necromancer” at the Abrons Arts Center. I caught Farrington’s “Gin and It” at PS122 a couple of years ago, and it was an interesting interaction between highly choreographed actor/scenery shifters and clips from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope.” Here, he promises to give us a kaleidoscopic explosion of clips from all of those existing “Christmas Carols” (35 of them to be more accurate), again smashing together media with live performers in a “Victorian Phantasmagoria.” Sounds like my cup of Pennyroyal Tea. It plays through December 18. For more info, see reidfarrington.com.

For a more sardonic holiday experience, check out faux Minnesota camp duo Vickie and Nickie in “Vickie and Nickie’s Holiday Sleigh Ride” at Dixon Place on December 3 and 10. The kitschy duo are not only funny character comediennes, but very talented musicians, each of them switching off on numerous different instruments over the course of a set. If their “Oh yah” shtick seems a little derivative, nobody can gainsay their abilities at pickin’, wailin’ or slammin’ the keys. More information at vickieandnickie.com.

This being an official “festive time,” some family-friendly shows deserve mention. While not Christmas-themed, Axis Company’s “Seven in One Blow, or the Brave Little Kid” is revived annually at this time of year, thus making it something of a holiday tradition. This year’s production (playing December 2-18) is the tenth annual edition — adding an element of celebration to the proceedings. The company puts as much work into this show as they do on their ordinary mainstage productions, and it stars many of their core cast members, including Edgar Oliver (one of my favorite actors), Jim Sterling and Brian Barnhart. The story, in case you were raised in a hole, comes from a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. To learn more, go to axiscompany.org

And speaking of Grimm, an outfit called “Grimms n Giggles Productions” (a project of Phoenix Theatre Ensemble) will be playing their new musical version of “The Toymakers Apprentice” at the Wild Project December 10 and 17. In this latter-day adaptation, the titular toymaker is hiring two new apprentices, and it’s between two candidates: the selfish daughter of the President of Corporate Corp, Incorporated…and a sweet little girl. Which one will win in the end? We know which one The Donald would choose, and that’s why no one produces his children’s shows. But to see a version produced by actual human beings, choose this one. Tickets and info are at phoenixtheatreensemble.org.

And if we may step outside the realm of Christian and Pagan mythmaking, I might suggest a brief stopover in the village of Chelm, the traditional town of idiots of Jewish folklore. Chelm is the setting of “Shlemiel the First” — a musical being presented by the National Yiddish Theatre (a.k.a. the Folksbiene) at NYU’s Skirball Center December 13-31. The show is based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s tale, adapted by the great director and critic Robert Brustein (though directed here by the Folksbiene’s David Gordon, with music by Zalmen Mlotek). If you want to find out more about how to “get your dunce cap on,” go to folksbiene.org.

Lastly, from December 8-18, Theater for the New City will be presenting their sixth Voice for Vision Puppet Festival. I am most excited by the revival of “A Life in Her Day” by the hilarious clown Hilary Chaplain, directed by and starring the hilarious and FAMOUS Avner Eisenberg (a.k.a Avner the Eccentric). This is New Vaudeville royalty on both counts, friends, and I for one plan to be devastated by the comedy these two cook up together. Also on the schedule are “Hudson to China” by Concrete Temple Theatre, “Senseless! A Brick Foley Adventure” by Elizabeth Hara, “Black Acre” by Retta Leaphart. The festival will also feature two evenings of short-form performances. “HellzaPoppinPuppets” (December 10 at 10:30pm) will present clowning comedy, singing and other surprises as the presenters look at how puppetry is performed in other genres of entertainment. “Puppet Art Attacks Slam” (December 18 at 8pm) will present short-form “works of genius” in a variety of puppet styles, from mini epics to performance poems. All audience members will receive a “Passport to Puppet Theater” at their first show in this festival, entitling them to $2 off tickets to each subsequent mainstage show they attend (discount must be claimed at the box office only). For full info, go to theaterforthenewcity.net.

See you next year!