The cast of A Very Tamarie Christmas. Photo Credit, Anthony Rathburn.
A Very Tamarie Christmas
Conceived and Directed by: Tamarie Cooper
Book By: Patrick Reynolds
Music by: Miriam Daly and Joe Folladori
Lyrics by: Tamarie Cooper, Miriam Daly, Joe Folladori and Partick Reynolds
Company: Catastrophic Theatre Run Dates: July 18 – August 30, 2014
As the new theatre critic in town it’s inevitable (and a bit daunting) that you’ll bump up against a beloved annual show and be asked to comment. Yes, you come to the experience with new eyes and a sensibility not sated with anticipation, but it would be a lie to say that the heft of the thing doesn’t factor if even just a bit. Will you align with your new city and embrace the show or will you drink the Kool Aid and conclude that it’s simply sugared water? So it was with this carry-on baggage that I found myself at Catastrophic Theatre’s annual Tamarie Cooper show, A Very Tamarie Christmas. Cooper ( Catastrophic’s Associate Director) has been running these summer shows for well over a decade and from what I gather no matter the subject matter (age, doomsday, 3D revue) irreverence is the name of her game. This time Cooper’s cheek is focused on Christmas and the myriad of other holidays in our yearly cycle. The result is in an uneven show that occasionally leaps to smart comedic heights but all too often mucks about in low hanging fruit territory.
Set on a minimal stage adorned with oversized Christmas packages and hanging Calder-esque snowflakes, it’s apparent right from the start that this is a show not expected to rest on impressive production values. Or a complex premise – the gist of which is that Christmas (played with Dean Martin panache) is fed up with the aggravation of the gig and quits. This propels Cooper to search for America’s next great holiday by meeting with impressively costumed incarnations of all manners of celebrations and rejecting them as her most favourite holiday for one reason or another. Setting up the show is the opening number, It’s Christmastime!, a rather pedantic song explaining Cooper’s obsession with Christmas and her desire to do a holiday show in July. We get pat zingers such as, “Christmas is a special time and if you don’t agree you’re a dick” and it’s also noted that the holiday is about, “Jesus and stuff if you are into that.” Added in are some easy laugh jokes involving Australia’s baby eating dingos and Catastrophic’s dark holiday programming schedule. While there is no doubt that the Christmas-costumed cast is doing their enthusiastic best with lovely vocal results, it’s an alkaline bath instead of an acidic romp.
What follows from there in the overly long hour-forty minute show does occasionally bring some terrifically caustic and dark jabs at our collective obsession/glamorization of minor and major holidays. Most notably, “It’s a Secular Commemoration of an Unspecified Event” which notes that December 25 might instead be lauded for being Jimmy Buffet’s birthday, does a spectacular job of taking the piss out of our Political Correctness gone wild. Similarly, “Up With Earth Day”, not only features some of the evening’s best vocal talent, but its sarcastic anti-environmental message which has mother earth herself positing that global warming is a fantasy, is brilliantly conceived and executed. Cooper’s Thanksgiving number (featuring Kyle Sturdivant in full Turkey costume) has minor success exposing stereotypical family dynamics that allows the cast to play some truly funny characters. But in total just doesn’t have the bite of the other two numbers.
The rest of the show introduces us to a seemingly endless parade of celebrations including the Union of Lesser Know Holidays – i.e. Flag Day, Administrative Assistant Day, Susan B. Anthony Day, Veterans Day, Arbour Day and some of the bigger players, Valentine’s Day, July 4th, Easter and Halloween. These musical numbers play out with overly obvious sit-comy sensibility in a no moment feels unplanned enough to be shocking or no moment feels campy enough to be outrageous manner. So sure the Easter Bunny is a horny devil, Valentine’s Day smokes and is jaded and July 4th is a brash, loudmouth American. Nothing new here.
Yet I do need to mention that for all my tut tutting re the missed scurrilous opportunities in the play, the majority of the audience seemed quite content to laugh heartily whether or not they too saw the jokes coming a million miles away. This was most definitely a crowd coming to be entertained (as they probably have been with Cooper’s shows for many years already) and they weren’t going to let familiar barbs or instances of heavy-handed writing get it the way of their good time.
In the end, while I can absolutely appreciate the love Houston feels for a show that has embedded itself into the culture of the city, I just can’t jump on the bandwagon with this year’s offering. So I guess for now, this critic remains an outsider.
For the sit-com with a soupçon of dark humour lover – This show is just darkly comedic enough to keep you laughing throughout without every really offending. The costumes are great fun, the performers are all grand and you’ll easily settle into the familiar humour. SEE IT
For those that like sharp bite with their comedy – There are some impressive moments/numbers that dig below the obvious jokes but you have to wade through a lot of padding to get to them. SKIP IT
For song and dance fans – The music (played by a live 4 piece band) is fine but not in any way memorable. Dance numbers do shine in several places. This is not a glitzy show by any means – but the large cast, the terrific costumes and the well populated stage make this visually enjoyable. MAYBE SEE IT
For the theatre junkie – This is a talented cast directed with enthusiasm and a nod to a good time. Plus it’s a Houston institution and perhaps that alone is reason to add it to your cannon. But the writing often fails to impress resulting in an uneven tone to the show that overall feels like a bit of a slog. MAYBE SEE IT