In a profoundly secular and mostly food-based way, I love the holidays. But they encourage a manufactured cheer that must be approached with caution, which is why December is the most perilous month of the theater season. When a show hits, it gives you the holiday warm 'n' fuzzies, or riffs on holiday traditions in a way that feels funny and fresh. When it misses, it's embarrassing, sentimental, broad, and makes you feel the opposite of the way you're supposed to feel about your fellow man. We don't know how any of the shows are gonna be this year, because we haven't seen any of 'em yet, but here are some picks:
A Christmas Carol at Portland Playhouse—Playhouse is going for it! Their "family friendly" adaptation of Dickens' classic promises loads of Christmas carols; it is, says artistic director Brian Weaver, "a gift that we could give to our neighborhood." Read: Come here for a faithful, well-produced take that ticks all the familiar, Christmassy boxes.
Rudolph - On Stage!—The producers of Road House: The Play and Lost Boys: The Musical get seasonal with a spoofy rendition of the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated classic. The cast includes enough professional comedians—and my boss, Wm. Steve Humphrey!—to make it a pretty good bet that this show will be as funny as it wants to be.
Golden Girls Live Christmas Special—Same idea. Performed by an all-male cast, which makes me skeptical, but the concept hits a nice note of being sentimental and nostalgic but still silly.
Action/Adventure's Very Special Holiday... Thing—A/A's holiday variety show is co-hosted by comedian/Merc columnist Bri Pruett, and comedian/pianist/ace Ellen impersonator David Saffert, plus special guests. At last year's show, opera singer Albert J Glueckert—a tenor better known for his role in a Pulitzer-winning opera—made the doors of their little blackbox rattle. Also, Harry Potter slash fic. (Full disclosure: My boyfriend and one of my co-workers are company members at A/A. I like them.)
Xmas Unplugged—With an adults-only program of holiday one-acts billed as "edgy" and "irreverent," I'm pretty sure Artists Rep is doing penance for Mars on Life. Good. (One of our writers gives it a stamp of approval.)
The Nutcracker—Oregon Ballet Theatre does their holiday due diligence.
A Nightmare on Elf Street—Holiday-themed sketch comedy directed by Second City vet Caitlin Kunkel. Merc columnist Alex Falcone is one of the writers!