In Telluride: Every Christmas Story Ever Told
Good tidings for holiday-comedy lovers: Jeb Berrier, founder of the Telluride Comedy Festival, is back with a new production. Berrier re-located with his family to Portland, Ore. late last summer. He still lives there – indeed, he likes it very much. But he also enjoys a good romp on stage, which is exactly what he’s directing and co-starring in at the Sheridan Opera House through Saturday. The play is Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some!), by a trio of writers: Michael Carleton, James FitzGerald and John K. Alvarez. It concerns a trio of actors (played by Berrier, Ashley Boling and Buff Hooper) who rebel against their roles in a musty version of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, and instead decide to re-enact every other Christmas story ever told. Which is a lot of them. Besides A Christmas Carol, Berrier said, “you get Frosty, the Grinch, the Gift of the Magi and It’s a Wonderful Life.” Not to mention Santa Claus and Rudolph, in addition to Scrooge. You get Christmas carols, as well. “It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t sing all of the carols ever sung,” Berrier pointed out. The show pays homage not only to stories and songs, but also to Christmas traditions from around the world, from ancient times through today.
Every Christmas’ style – truncation and exaggeration of the holidays to comic effect – is very reminiscent of The Complete Works of Shakespeare: Abridged, in which the Bard’s great works and characters are similarly compressed; that play was also performed by Berrier, Boling and Hooper, with much success, at the Sheridan in 2009. Christmas made its debut nine years ago, at the Cape May Stage in New Jersey. Since then, the comedy has taken flight, and has been seen from Redding, Ca. (at the Riverfront Playhouse) to Portsmouth, N.H. Certain communities, such as Sacramento, have even adopted it as a Christmas tradition and stage it every year. “It’s pretty insane,” Berrier said. He was speaking not only about the pace of the play, but of rehearsals. “I just got back into town a week ago,” he explained. It was the cast’s first chance to rehearse in person, and they had less than seven days to get ready. Just like rehearsals, this comedy clicks along: it’s only 90 minutes long. In that time, just about every Christmas tradition and pop cliché you can imagine finds its way onstage. “These are the tales we grew up with,” Berrier said. Like it or not, the food we grew up with, too. “Fruitcake,” he pointed out, “is featured very prominently.” The play is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $16, available online at sheridanoperahouse.com or by calling 970/728-6363.
Also in Telluride, a play of a different sort gets its debut next week. This one’s a murder mystery, written by Sasha Sullivan to benefit Telluride Theatre and The Palm Theatre next Friday, Dec. 28. Telluride Theatre and the Palm have a special, symbiotic relationship. “Our offices are above the Palm,” Sullivan pointed out. “We were also the Palm’s first Associate Members.” So when Sullivan decided to write a play for the joint fund-raiser, “I wanted to make it specific to the Palm itself.”
Accordingly, she set her play in the Palm, and made the audience part of the action. Murder at the Palm takes place in 1952 (yes, before the theater was even built, but such is creative license). “I wanted it to recall the era of film noir and gumshoe detectives,” Sullivan said. Think: Kiss Me Deadly, based on the novel by Mickey Spillane, whose crime solver is Detective Mike Hammer. In Sullivan’s play, it’s the hometown crowd who solves the crime. “The audience comes in – this is the real audience – and has a few drinks and appetizers,” Sullivan says. While they are mingling, a murder is committed, and the fun begins. There are nine characters on stage, including a leading man and lady, a character actor, the director, and a stage manager. “Within this group, there is a victim, the suspects, and a killer,” Sullivan said. The audience helps solve the mystery. Luckily, they’ll have plenty of brain fuel to run on: “We’re offering extra appetizers and more alcohol at intermission,” Sullivan said. “We want people everyone to get their money’s worth.”
Sullivan has written a fair number of plays, but “never, ever” a murder mystery. “I was a lover of mysteries growing up, though,” she said. “I read Mary Higgins Clark and Agatha Christie.” Coincidentally, Christie’s The Mousetrap debuted onstage in 1952 – the year Sullivan’s murder-mystery is also set – and went on to become the longest-running play of all time. The theatre world is deeply superstitious. Could this be an omen? The play is at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50, and available at telluridepalm.com or by calling 970/369-5669.
Mountaineering Series at the Sherbino
Ridgway’s freshly-restored Sherbino Theater has only been up and running for a couple of months, but that’s been plenty of time to establish a new Mountaineering Series. This region is groaning with highly accomplished mountaineers, and one of the best will give a talk at the theater tonight. Hilaree O’Neill has made daunting ski descents – of Cho Oyu, Aconcagua, Denali – and last April, she topped herself by going to Everest. Unfortunately, the weather wouldn’t cooperate for an adventure on skis, but she did manage to make the first female link of the Everest and Lhotse summits in 24 hours.
Thursday night, O’Neill will discuss her exploits; when she’s not out scaling summits, she lives in Telluride and has an equally daunting day job: she’s the mother of two young boys. O’Neill was invited to the Sherbino by Ridgway resident Brian Scranton, a Sherbino board member. “We’re Facebook friends,” he explained. “I see her skiing all the time. I told her we’d love to have her speak, and she agreed.” He describes O’Neill as “super nice, a wonderful spirit and soul” who, when faced with something truly daunting in the backcountry, “keeps calm and keeps her shit together.” Back in the parking lot, on the other hand, O’Neill tends to falls apart. And that’s appealing, too. As she noted on her blog about her most recent expedition, “Many people thought I was crazy” for wanting to ski from the summit of Everest. “My standard response has always been that I am much more coordinated on my skis than on my feet.” For example, when O’Neill was 7 months pregnant, she skied with nary a problem. “However, as soon as I would take my skis and boots off, put on tennis shoes and turn around to walk, I would trip over the dog and go sprawling on the pavement.” True to form, on her most recent trip, as soon as O’Neill returned to the “safety” of Base Camp for a bit of re-acclimatizing from an upper camp on the mountain, she sprained her ankle. “Seriously?!?! I spent the entire night freaking out that I’d ruined my chances to summit Everest.” Yet this time, the weather cooperated; it was bad enough, long enough to give O’Neill’s ankle a chance to mend. “As Conrad [Anker] says, Hold fast! Patience, patience, patience,” she wrote. “I’m just in awe of my ability to take something very hard and make it a lot harder.” O’Neill gives her talk at 7 p.m.