The Ultimate Christmas Show by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, Reduced Shakespeare Company, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 11/25/11-12/18/11, http://www.merrimackrep.org/season/show.aspx?sid=110. Contains scatological humor and some Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor flesh.
Reviewed by Becca Kidwell
(Lowell, MA) They’re baaack! Every so often, a rustle of popular culture floats through the air, gets put into the Reduced Shakespeare grinder and out comes some side-splitting fun. At their east coast premiere of The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged), the Reduced Shakespeare Company exceeds expectations. Blending holiday traditions from ancient times to modern, religious to secular, The Ultimate Christmas Show presents a jolly evening for anyone who can appreciate a little irreverence with sincere heart.
The framework of the show consists of the company preparing to host the “St. Everybody’s Universalist Church Multicultural Interfaith Holiday Variety Show and Christmas Pageant” featuring acts from America, Canada, and England. Unfortunately, all of the acts are having difficulty getting to the show. What are three zany guys going to do? Start the show, of course–and perform every multicultural interfaith number until the groups show up.
Reed Martin, Austin Tichenor, and Matt Rippy set up the show with their “personal” beliefs about the holidays and establish the dynamic of the evening. Then, they try the first hip-hop number, but decide that white men can’t rap. They continue with new versions of the old classics such as “White Christmas,” the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” and “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” In addition, they add new songs to the mix to reflect the modern “sensitivities” of our culture. And to top it off, they don’t forget to do a Christmas pageant and have a performance of the Nutcracker.
For anyone who’s seen the Reduced Shakespeare Company, they already know of the rollicking fun in store; for those who haven’t, they are in for a night of belly-aching laughter. I’m not a big holiday show person; perhaps, because too many Christmas stories are so solemn and serious. A Christmas Carol is about a guy who is reminded for one day to be nice; It’s a Wonderful Life is about a guy who gets kicked about until he becomes suicidal; and just turn on the tv news any time of day–can you blame me for not wanting to be serious at Christmastime? I don’t have that problem with this show. The Reduced Shakespeare Company keeps their lowered expectations of themselves to bring joy–if only for one night–to the audience members at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre.
Of all of the Reduced Shakespeare shows I’ve seen, The Ultimate Christmas Show is matched only by The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Like Shakespeare, they take every liberty; but like Shakespeare, they show every respect. Religions and beliefs are joked about during the show, but in between the silliness, they recognize the humanity and love that goes into each holiday during this season. If you are easily offended, perhaps this is not the right show for you. But if you can laugh at yourself and some of the strange and unusual practices of the holidays, you’re in for a wonderful night. I have been granted two Christmas gifts this year to get me out of my slump. The first was A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas; the second is The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged). Life’s too serious 364 days out of the year. Take time to laugh at yourself and start a new holiday tradition with the Reduced Shakespeare Company.