Roasting Chestnuts 


That numbness you feel this time of year isn't the first hints of frostbite, but the deadening sensation at the prospect of seeing the same old holiday shows. Many theaters make their money with Yuletide plays, guaranteeing we'll get countless versions of A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker year in, year out, even though they offer a narrow side of the holidays.

Neighborhood Playhouse makes a game attempt at being more inclusive with its original multi-culti show 'Tis the Seasons, an evening that touches on winter holidays from around the globe, from Hanukkah to Tet. Playwright Evan Guilford-Blake, managing director of Working Title Playwrights, draws on canonical holiday stories, exotic folk tales and autobiographical recollections for an atypical, family-friendly evening with modest charms.

'Tis the Seasons' vignettes tend to be magical but secular, including dramatized versions of such old chestnuts as "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus," and the ironic present-swapping of O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi." 'Tis the Seasons makes room for more personal, contemporary anecdotes, such as a newlywed couple's glum Christmas Eve in a motel room made unexpectedly bright by a Perry Como TV special.

The cast uses masks and puppetry to evoke tales from the Chinese New Year, Vietnam's Tet and the 39-year-old Kwanzaa holiday, represented by African folk hero Anansi. At times, the show stoops to cloying methods: When the actors wear mouse noses and exhort the audience to sing "Jingle Bells" during Beatrix Potter's "The Tailor of Gloucester," even the most warm-hearted spectator will feel more like a grinch.

Neighborhood Playhouse is up front that 'Tis the Seasons is a "community" production, so the performers tend to be much more eager than polished. Theresa Cunningham stands out with her commanding comic presence, while fourth-grader Julianne Lang proves remarkably precocious. Lang affirms that during Christmas, "cute" doesn't always have to be a four-letter word.

'Tis the Seasons runs through Dec. 11 at Neighborhood Playhouse, 430 W. Trinity Place, Decatur. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. $16-$24. 404-373-5311.



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