Friday, Dec. 4, 2009

Rudolph The Pissed-Off Reindeer Returns

Patrick Schmitz's Christmas Comedy Enters Its Second Year

By Russ Bickerstaff
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It’s the little touches that keep an annual Christmas show fresh from year to year. This year, prior to performances of Patrick Schmitz’s Rudolph the Pissed-Off Reindeer, patrons have an opportunity to get their pictures taken with Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and a head elf in the Alchemist Theatre Bar. Santa’s played here as he is in the show—by comic talent Nick Firer. True to form, the character is kind of a jerk. There he is sitting in a chair with the characteristic boots, pants and suspenders, only he’s wearing a wife beater and a surly attitude. Joe Foti is characteristically abrasive as the Foreman Elf, moving around with a stiffness that suggests a carefulstudy of the character he's based on. Beth Lewinski is cheerfully apologetic as Mrs. Claus. It’s a quaint adult twist on the holidays that serves as a really good intro for the show itself. 

Arriving in its second year at the Alchemist Theatre, Patrick Schmitz’s brilliantly-crafted satire on the old Rankin and Bass stop-motion animated TV specials features a cast largely identical to the one that appeared in the show last year. The script is as sharp as ever. Schmitz’s comedy holds-up to a second year with memorable punch lines working again with enjoyable efficiency. The most notable addition to the cast is Cynthia Kmak, who  takes the role of Donner’s wife Rosemary—mother of Rudolph. (Played last year by Megan McGee of Broadminded.) Kmak has done comedy before, but here she really shines.

Having seen the original show near the beginning of its run, it’s fascinating to see how far its come. The comic chemistry in and amidst the cast feels a lot more solid than it did at the beginning of last year’s run. This is partially due to the lengthy run of the show last year, but it also has something to do with the fact that many of the actors in the cast have worked together pretty extensively since then. Firer and Beth Lewinski, who appear as Mr. and Mrs. Claus regularly appear onstage alongside Patrick Schmitz and others at the Alchemist as a part of the sketch comedy group Meanwhile. Rudolph and his girlfriend Clarice are played by Joel Boyd and Anna Wolfe, now Juniors in high school, also work with Schmitz in his improv classes with First Stage. Their comic rapport has come a long way as well . .  . some of the benefits of this would be lost in the production were it not for the fact that Schmitz keeps the show open for improv between actors. The show seethes with comic vitality.

A show that features a cast of nearly twenty with full costumes, props and effects ends up having a lot of stray edges that sometimes come loose and a cast this good at improv swims through those moments quite effectively. Opening night, King Moonracer (normally played by Andy North) lost his wings. The wings are kind of a central part to the character (if not the plot) and the cast all made clever adjustments to account for it. Borne of a familiarity for the script, the characters and each other, the ensemble is a great deal of fun from beginning to end. A production with this many moving parts may not be flawless, but the ensemble does an impressive job of embracing the flaws and swimming through them.

Patrick Schmitz’s Rudolph the Pissed- Off Reindeer runs through December 19th. As of this writing, there are very few tickets left for the rest of the run.

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