Christmas comedy is not typical holiday show
By Cindy Beamon
Albemarle Life Editor
Thursday, November 30, 2017
Mary Cherry wanted to direct something different this Christmas when Encore Theatre Company opened its new season.
She thought audiences get tired of the same old, same old with Scrooge, the Nutcracker and Santa stories.
"Ultimate Christmas Story" was her answer.
The show's descriptive calls it "festive funny with a bit of irreverent fun," but it also has a message, said Cherry, a volunteer director for the nonprofit community theatre group.
"Everybody looks at the holidays differently," said Cherry. "The whole point is to see the different ways people celebrate Christmas."
The play takes place at the Annual Holiday Variety Show and Christmas Pageant at St. Everybody's Non-Denominational Universalist Church "where all faiths are welcome because we'll believe anything." The show touches on seasonal traditions for multiple faiths -- from Hanukkah to Christmas, from Ramadan to Kwanzaa, from pagan yuletide customs to the origin of Santa and gift giving.
According to the script, the cast that was booked to perform fails to show up after a big storm hits. Given the circumstances, the show's four organizers decide to perform themselves rather than refund money to an audience that has already arrived.
The four-woman cast plays multiple roles -- from carolers to puppeteers, from nativity scene reenactors to Christmas rappers and bell ringers. The cast, acting under their own names, include Jessica James, Sarah Lee, Christina Shepard and Destiny Anderson.
Anderson, a senior at Foreshadow Academy in Weeksville, said the show's non-traditional approach makes it funny.
"This is a show you have to come in with an open mind," Anderson said. The show will be Anderson's first appearance for Encore although she has filled previous roles in local community theater.
Anderson said she likes the scene where Santa receives a letter from President Donald Trump. The delivery of that letter, stating that Santa entered the country illegally, will have the audience laughing, she predicted.
Shepard, who played comedic roles in Encore's recent productions of "Plaza Suite" and "Just Desserts," said her favorite scene in "Ultimate Christmas Show" is the nativity.
Shepard makes some quick costume changes to play Mary, Herod, a pig and a shepherd in the pantomime.
"It tells the Christmas story but in a funny way, but it gets everything in there," she said.
There's also the Confederate Christmas Carolers who sing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" with a white supremacist spin and an argument between a Muslim and Jew about which of their religious observances are the best.
Shepard said the show is "a little irreverent and bawdy" but audiences familiar with Encore shows know to expect some offbeat humor and edgy dialogue.
"I just like it all. It's way different," she said.
Lee said she likes a song she sings to loosen up Christina, whose stodgy religious ways prevent her from enjoying the fun side of Christmas. The song creates a mishmash of words out of “Christmas,” “Kwanzaa,” an African American holiday, and “Hanukkah,” a Jewish holiday.
"There's not a ton of singing, but the songs we sing are fun songs," said Lee, a Coast Guard retiree, previous Encore performer, and Cherry's daughter.
Lee also likes the play-on-words introduction to the nativity scene by announcer "Wolf Blitzen" with Access Hollyrood's "Enlightenment Tonight."
"I think the audience will definitely be laughing throughout the entire show, from beginning to end," she said. She noted that "Ultimate Christmas Show" won great reviews when it was originally performed.
James is making her first appearance for Encore. The Realtor and mentor for The Benjamin House said she likes a scene where her character becomes angry at a Jew and a Muslim for arguing about which has the better holiday. The irony is Ramadan celebrates kindness and empathy, which is obviously lacking in that argument.
The audience will also have a chance to participate at certain points in the show. Near the end of Act 1, the performers exchange gifts, and theatre-goers may join the fun by bringing $1 to $5 wrapped gifts to exchange among themselves.
Cherry said the show is appropriate for children ages 13 and older.
What: "Ultimate Christmas Show"
Who: Presented by Encore Theatre Company
When: Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 2 at 2 p.m., Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Where: Maguire Theatre at Arts of the Albemarle, 516 E. Main St.
Cost: $16 general admission, $12 for seniors and military
Optional: Theatre-goers may bring $1 to $5 wrapped gift for a gift exchange during the show
Contact: artsaoa.com or 252-338-6455