Every Christmas Story Ever Told
I'd rather have a stake of holly drilled through my eye than sit through another well-worn seasonal show, which makes me the target demographic for the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival's Every Christmas Story Ever Told. The show (penned by Michael Carleton, John Alvarez and Jim Fitzgerald) is a rambling and irreverent deconstruction of everyone's favorite BHC's (beloved holiday classics). When first seen as a staged reading at 2005's Playfest, it starred Eric Hissom, Philip Nolan and Tim Williams. The script back then was obviously a work in progress, but the production carried through on the strength of well-known actors playing on their personas to superb comedic effect.
Williams is the only holdover in the cast from that production, and he ably steps up to the central role of a frustrated thespian desperate to get his Dickens on. Mark Lainer, as a dim but affable overgrown child, and Rob Maitner, as their cheerleading intermediary, join him. (The latter has been described by my friend as a cross between Jeremy Piven and Nathan Lane.)
This edition features an expanded and updated script, but the basic structure remains unchanged. All the obvious targets are hit, from the Grinch to fruitcake to Rudolph — or "Gustav the Green-Nosed Reingoat," for copyright reasons. Between the scrambled stories we get multiculti factoids on the often terrifying ways other cultures celebrate the season. It all comes to a head with a head-spinning mash-up of the all-time BHC champs, A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life.
Lainer dances a mean Tchaikovsky, and Maitner makes an ideal hyperactive game-show host. But Williams gets the best bits, whether he's scientifically deconstructing the Santa myth or delivering an acid take on Francis Church's famous "Yes, Virginia" editorial. I found the loudest laughs in the stabs at Orlando's theater community, but the audience seemed to get a bigger kick out of some pop-culture references that left me cold.
The show moves along at a mostly breakneck pace; the choreography and props are endearingly tacky; and the cavernous Margeson Theater has been decked out with enough Christmas lights to make the Osbornes wince. The pace is not quite breakneck enough: What would have made a brisk 75-minute one-act feels labored at two hours with an intermission.
Still, it's the only holiday show I'd attend without double-fisting high-test eggnog first. (7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, also 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19, through Dec. 24 at Margeson Theater, Lowndes Shakespeare Center; $20-$35; 407-447-1700; www.shakespearefest.org)
— Seth Kubersky
ICE! at Gaylord Palms
"Sure, the warm weather in Orlando is nice," you hear the tourists whine, "but it just doesn't feel like Christmas." Bah humbug, I reply — I've spent my whole life moving steadily south in an epic effort to avoid shoveling snow. But if you're the type that likes frostbite, get your fix at this year's ICE! exhibit at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee.
While you wait to be ushered inside the 18,000-square-foot walk-in freezer, observe the fascinating time-lapse video of the construction process. After enduring a tacky and pointless preshow video (I don't need to see Mrs. Claus in a lounge chair), you'll be parka-ed up like a Blue Meanie. Bring along some gloves, too, because it's a brisk 9 degrees inside.
This is the area's second cultural event of the season to depend on human capital imported from the People's Republic (the other, the Our Body: The Universe Within at Orlando Science Center): The two million pounds of ice are carved by 40 craftsmen from Harbin, China (presumably no relation to the specimens at the science center). Back home they craft soaring, graceful fantasies, but here they are straitjacketed into predictable images of white-bread X-mas Americana. Highlights include a walk-through locomotive, Santa's toyshop and a "Victorian Christmas" tableau — all painstakingly sculpted in gleaming H2O.
While the craftsmanship is impeccable, the artistry walks a shaky line between the sublime and the ridiculous — a stunning stained glass reminiscent of Matisse gives way to a crystalline Nativity scene that looks like the world's biggest Swarovski collection. Normally I'd complain about paying $25 for less than a half-hour's entertainment, but I couldn't have taken much more deep-freeze.
Afterward, grab a comp cup of cocoa in the resort's Bio-Dome of an atrium and marvel at their seasonal show taking place under the tree. Nothing says "birth of the messiah" like a life-sized Bratz doll singing "I Want You to Want Me." (10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. daily, through Jan. 2 at Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, Kissimmee; 407-586-4423; $16.99-$24.99; www.gaylordhotels.com)