Local author Marc Acito and screenwriter CS Whitcomb collaborated on Artists Rep's new holiday show, Holidazed, which received its world premiere here in Portland but will undoubtedly go on to successful runs in liberal urban areas nationwide.
Holidazed takes all the elements and themes of a traditional holiday story (the difficulty of living up to charitable ideals; the strain the holidays place on families; ghosts) and scrambles them for a progressive audience. It's the type of gently moralizing, happily-ever-after show that is really only palatable because it falls under the general umbrella of "Christmas entertainment." Whether the show resonates with individual audience members will depend on one's relationship to the holiday genre in general, but it's safe to say that Holidazed is far more diverting than most of its platitudinous peers.
Luna (Ana Reiselman) is a pagan street girl taken in for the holidays by Julia (Susannah Mars), a working mother who's already overextended due to the demands of single handedly orchestrating the family Christmas every year. Throw in an inattentive husband who's skeezed out by the idea of taking in strays, a holier-than-thou sister-in-law, three mostly bratty children, and two gay best friends, and you can probably pretty much figure out the plot on your own. (Life lessons are learned.)
As a commenter on the Mercury's Blogtown put it, the plot "totally sounds like the episode of My So-Called Life when Angela hangs out with homeless Juliana Hatfield." That said, the show is elevated from the merely sentimental by a combination of the script's humor, and consistently great performances delivered by some of the finest working actors in Portland. Mars effectively registers both generosity and strain as a long-suffering working mother, while Todd Van Voris handily steals the Thanksgiving dinner scene in a cross-dressed performance as Grandma. Van Voris and Michael Mendelson are absolutely hilarious as Julia's gay best friends—and it's refreshing, too, to see this couple discussing the possibility of child-rearing with nary a hint of judgment from any of the other characters, and to see a gay subplot so comfortably integrated into an otherwise very traditional family setting. It's a holiday show, with all that implies, but as an example of the genre it's head and shoulders above most other seasonal offerings.