If laughter is the best medicine, then “Every Christmas Story Ever Told” is the ultimate dose of cheer. “I really needed this,” said one playgoer, who left the theater much jollier than he arrived.
Wednesday night’s dress rehearsal audience at the Edison Theatre was small, but the laughs were big and continuous.
At times the action seems like a bunch of Carol Burnett Show sketches with uproarious scenarios by people every bit as funny as Tim Conway, Harvey Korman and Burnett herself. There is even a beard worn by one of the actors that resembles the curtain rod and drapery from the famous “Gone with the Wind” skit.
It’s not even important to remember all the stories ever told; they are expertly woven together, but they include A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Frosty the Snowman and the Gift of the Maggie (not Magi!), not to mention Gustav the Green Nosed Reingoat and the Nutcracker—the dance of the sugarplum fairies is so delightfully giddy, it’s a good thing there are no words, because you wouldn’t be able to hear them over the laughter.
A little bit about the characters: there are only three—Brian, Bert and Mark. Three grown men who fill the stage with amazing fluidity of words and motion, moving the minimal props as they talk. The set is bare with a painted stone fireplace as the centerpiece. The wings are utilized, too, with action happening backstage as well as in front of our eyes.
Brian starts off, standing at center front, dressed as Charles Dickens and reading from the book, “A Christmas Carol.”
“Marley is dead, very dead,” he intones in a rich English accent. He doesn’t get much further than that before his two cohorts assault him with the idea of presenting “Every Christmas Story Ever Told,” and off they go, dragging along the reluctant Brian. It’s a kind of play within a play of them rehearsing a play that we are watching.
Costumes are fantastic (and the characters change both clothes and accents frequently. The simplest costume is a vest with patches sewn onto it, denoting the tattered clothing of Bob Cratchit. And then there’s Mark’s costume change from a female character to a male, when he changes everything but his pumps.
Bert is stunningly eloquent, often the emcee who explains much-abbreviated stories, while Mark flutters about like a lovable hummingbird. Brian is the appealing straight man, for whom the audience feels sympathy because he’s clearly not going to get to do his beloved Christmas Carol.
We have seen Mark Atha and Brian Stanton in Mammoth Lakes before (in “Greater Tuna” and “The Bible: The Complete Word of God, Abridged”). All three are Los Angeles actors, and it must be noted that Mark’s day job is as an animal keeper/trainer at the LA Zoo. This is Bert Emmett’s first visit to the Mammoth stage.
Why would three expert comedic actors come from L.A. to do a regional play? Bert came to meet snowbunnies, Mark is an old friend of Shira Dubrovner, artistic director of Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre, and Brian loves Mammoth.
The versatility, energy and consummate professionalism of this trio of actors is a sight to behold—if, like me, you could see them through laughter/tear-filled eyes.
The director, Drina Durazo, also from L.A., is a 20-something woman who weaves a seamless show out of a bunch of tangled Christmas Tree lights.
“She’s an up-and-comer,” Dubrovner says. “I picked her to direct because she’s young and talented and has a good eye for comedy.”
And the choreography by Stan Mazin, who has staged a dance of comedy that flows gracefully through dizzying action. Mazin, along with Brian, Bert and Drina, are members of the Group Rep Theatre Company in North Hollywood. Mazin, a lifelong dancer and choreographer, used to dance on the Carol Burnett Show.
“Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And then Some!) was written by Michael Carleton, Jim Fitzgerald and John K. Alvarez. According to Dubrovner, the play has been around about 10 years, and is just now beginning to be presented in regional theaters.
The play runs through Dec. 22 at the Edison Theatre. Tickets are available at EdisonTheatre.org