This Ain't A Christmas Carol 

Christmas Theater You'll Actually Enjoy

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THE DANGER of marketing a holiday play as "edgy" is that you end up with a show that appeals to nobody. The younger folks in the audience yawn their way through watered naughtiness and the older folks flinch as they're mugged for their sugarplums. The only people who reliably benefit are the babysitters assigned to look after the preteens.

A successfully "adult" production has to nod to the audience's maturity and still stroke the sentimental nerve below our bah-humbug surface.

Artists Repertory Theatre has foregone safer offerings in favor of two one-acts billed as "Xmas Unplugged." The shared theme is the frustration of scraping your way through Christmas as an adult of little means but many regrets.

First is Matt Pelfrey's The Reason for the Season, directed by Rusty Tennant. What elevates this one-act from a slight revenge farce to something more is a knock-down drag-out endurance test of a fight scene. Tennant's choreography is just brutal and silly enough to keep you guessing about the end result.

It's worth hanging around your seat for the entertaining intermission set change, executed with efficient care by Michelle Jazuk's stage crew.

Second on the bill is Anthony Neilson's The Night Before Christmas. Director Louanne Moldovan presents the material as a cross between In Bruges and the seedier bits of A Christmas Carol. It's less about whether Christmas magic is real and more about how the people dispossessed from it manage to chisel out a bit of peace and cheer despite themselves.

Performances here are uniformly enjoyable; of the two double-billed actors, Chris Murray distinguishes nicely between two goofus roles, and Steve Coker deserves a Drammy just for surviving the first-act fight scene.

But here's what you really want to know: Can you attend this play in the company of family without anybody praying for a swift, merciful death?

Ask yourself: Could your niece tolerate a scenario in which Santa Claus both deserves and receives a punch to the crotch? Is your mom the type to take wicked delight in watching a hooker smash a cigarette into an elf's mouth? Is your date the kind of person who skips Midnight Mass for the strip club but still reverently cues up the Charlie Brown Christmas album?

If the answer is "yes," great news: You can give A Christmas Carol the year off.

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