The Santaland Diaries Patrick Weishampel / blankeye.tv

I KNOW. You hear me grouse about holiday theater season constantly, with all the gray-mustachioed derision of Statler and Waldorf. But it’s HERE. And despite all my haranguing, IT ISN’T GOING AWAY. If you’re about to be spending a lot of time with your extended family, and you’ve already told your racist uncle why he should stop making offensive jokes (we’re all interrupting our racist uncles this Christmas, right? GOOD) then “quality time” may be best spent shoulder-to-shoulder with your eyeballs pointed in the same direction. Besides, I’m trying to be less crabby about the glitter explosions ahead. So I mined this year’s holiday show offerings for sound alternatives to hate-watching Love Actually through a critical feminist lens for the thousandth time. Will it work? Probably not! But let’s try anyway. Here are five opportunities to avoid being uncharitably compared to a hateful, antisocial miser this holiday season:


Viva's Holiday Gene Newell

Viva’s Holiday

Based on the memoirs of Portland stripper Viva Las Vegas, Viva’s Holiday sure stands out from the rest of holiday theater season’s good-cheer offerings. Okay yes, it IS a Christmas opera about a stripper, and if that’s what gets you in the door, I’m for it. But if you’re like “A HOLIDAY OPERA THAT REQUIRES A STRIPPER POLE BERTA FETCH ME MY SMELLING SALTS,” calm down, because Viva’s Holiday is also just a great depiction of the emotional vulnerability many of us feel around the holidays, whether it’s because we’re related to Trump supporters or our families aren’t accepting of our life choices or we just find that coming home causes us to revert to our teenage selves and yell at our parents about how we didn’t ASK TO BE BORN even though we love them and are nearly 30. This is territory most holiday spectaculars don’t dare investigate, and that’s a shame, because it ignores how many of us experience the holidays. We’re lucky that Viva’s Holiday goes there, plus, for all you classical music dorks/recovering woodwind players, the pit orchestra is GREAT.Star Theater, 13 NW 6th, Wed-Thurs Dec 7-8, Wed-Sat Dec 14-17, 9 pm, $25


Patrick Weishampel / blankeye.tv

The Santaland Diaries

I’ll never forget stumbling onto David Sedaris reading The Santaland Diaries aloud for the first time, on an NPR segment originally recorded in 1992. Sedaris’ dry, nasally delivery hasn’t changed, but Santaland features a darker, younger, lost-er Sedaris than the one who lives in France now and writes essays about his language-based expat struggles. No one can replicate Sedaris, and fortunately, Darius Pierce, who plays Sedaris’ elf alter-ego Crumpet in Portland Center Stage’s staged version of the essay, doesn’t imitate Sedaris, but makes the iconic material his own in a magnanimous holiday performance. Pierce is funny and warmhearted in Santaland, and if you HAVE to attend a holiday play your entire NPR-subsidizing family will enjoy, this one’s not a bad option. Ellyn Bye Studio at the Armory, 128 NW 11th, Tues-Fri 7:30 pm, Sat-Sun 7:30 & 2 pm, through Sat Dec 24, $25


The Nutcracker James McGraw

The Nutcracker

HEAR ME OUT. Yes, I know ballet isn’t for everyone, but neither is football. And just like football, ballet is one of the most brutal displays of athletic prowess you’ll ever see—seriously, did you know that American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland once danced The Firebird with SIX stress fractures in her tibia? Fucking badass. You can’t see Misty Copeland in Portland, but you CAN see the Balanchine version of The Nutcracker, whose primacy in the world of ballet has been the target of deserved criticism, but which also happens to be one of the few choreographed adventures in an alternate reality featuring a girl protagonist and a hell of a lot of wish fulfillment—I mean, the heroine gets to pal around with a prince in the safe space of a dream, and she defeats an evil rat king WITH HER SHOE. Think of it less as a dull parade of sentient candy and snowflakes (which, fair warning, IT IS) and more like Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, but for girls. EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL AT THE BALLET! Oregon Ballet Theater at Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay, starts Sat Dec 10, Thurs-Fri 7:30 and Sat-Sun 7:30 & 2 pm, through Mon Dec 26, $29


Marilyn Monroe Contre Les Vampires courtesy of the artist

Marilyn Monroe Contre Les Vampires

That’s French for “Marilyn Monroe Against the Vampires,” and no, I have no fucking clue what’s going on here, either. It’s the name of performance group Liminal’s upcoming holiday show/art installation, adapting Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1972 satire about a visiting extraterrestrial’s attempts to understand our bizarre vale of tears. (If the world looks weird to you right now, you can be sure it’d look just as horrifying to hyper-intelligent life forms from other planets.) On that note, you might not want to take your racist uncle to this one: Among Liminal’s extensive list of trigger warnings for this show is the name of our tiny-handed, popular vote-losing president-elect. If you’re wisely limiting your exposure to the Orange Menace (me too), there’s no shame in heeding it. But if you’re feeling up for weirdness—and I’m not kidding, as previous holiday offerings from Liminal include 2014’s Santa, a production of E.E. Cummings’ odd play about Santa Claus and death—Marilyn Monroe at the very least promises to be strange enough to pull you out of your holiday whimsy-induced stupor. Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate, Thurs Dec 8 7:30 pm, Fri-Sat Dec 9-10 7:30 & 9:30 pm, Sun Dec 11 5:30 & 7:30 pm, $20


The Siren Theater’s Best Christmas Ever

Finally, there’s one holiday play I’ll go to voluntarily: whatever seasonally appropriate show the jokesters at Shelley McLendon’s Bad Reputation Productions are offering. And I’m not just saying that because it frequently stars my boss, Wm. Steven Humphrey—though, FULL DISCLOSURE, he’s played Sam the Snowman in Rudolph on Stage! and appears in the latest show too, along with delightful performers like Jed Arkley, Michael Fetters, Janet Scanlon, and Erin O’Regan. Should you take your family to The Siren Theater’s Best Christmas Ever? Maybe not! But you should definitely go. I mean it. It’s a fresh new sketch comedy show and it’s what Statler and Waldorf would want. Siren Theater, 315 NW Davis, Fri-Sat 8 pm, through Dec 17, $12-16