Who knew that Santa’s elves, Tiny Tim, and Jim from “Gift of the Magi” were all sexual deviants hiding behind the mask they put on for the audience? Such a take on classic Christmas tales comes from Stephen Banks, the head writer of Spongebob Squarepants, his play “Looking at Christmas.” Starring John (Michael Micalizzi) and Charmian (Allison Buck) “Looking at Christmas” presents a delightfully amusing performance interspersed with thought-provoking humor, much like the beloved children’s show. The two Bats, the resident acting troupe of the Flea Theater, present two awkward souls lost in New York’s endless mass of aspiring artists who meet in front of a Bloomingdales and have an epically mundane adventure.
The main action of the play revolves solely around John and Charmian getting to know each other. John learns about Charmian’s unsupportive, controlling boyfriend back home, and Charmian learns that John was just fired from his job. This part of John’s backstory serves as a Macguffin to set the plot in motion since John appears rather blasé about such blows after his initial frustration. This does seem a little unrealistic but the most important part of the show, John and Charmian’s relationship, appears real. So real in fact that at times their relationship is so cute and adorable that it becomes a little difficult to bear. Everyone has seen couples together that are just too cute.
Before the romance gets to be too much, the window scenes, where the characters in the window come to life and present their own view on things, come in, serving as a welcome break from the romance for some straight comedy. Banks manages to pull off here what made Spongebob so well-received; comedy with genuine thought mixed in. There are some where the humor is very sexual in nature. Santa’s elf hits on Mrs. Clause, reveals his height fetish wanting to sleep with her as she spurns his advances. Jim from “Gift of the Magi” horrifies his wife with a cross-dressing fantasy after he realizes that Della’s new haircut makes her look like a boy. A science-themed Tiny Tim discusses what he would do if he could have Charmian as a crab-like Scrooge scoffs at his adolescent horny imagination. An Irish husband doggedly questions his wife as to why they are leaving the front door open for Mary and Joseph on Christmas Eve, “It’s letting all the cold in”. Finally, they parody the original Christmas story; Joseph is hesitant to trust Mary that Gabriel was, in fact, an angel sent from God and not a man pretending to be an angel. These scenes were especially effective thanks to the superb acting of the supporting cast. Every actor in the show besides the leads played several different characters. The way they presented the scenes as parodies of the original story brought in questions about Christmas and following traditions and the relevance of classic Christmas stories. As much as John and Charmian performed well on stage, these scenes just stood out far more.
The show’s technical aspects were all simple and minimalist, but extremely effective. As previously mentioned, the staging added credence to the romance between the lead characters; besides this there is also the staging of the main scenes compared to the window scenes. The window scenes take place on an elevated platform, literally feet away from the front row of the audience. This is far different from the main scenes, which take place on the regular part of the stage, much further from the audience in traditional stage practice. This staging increased the emotional response to the window scenes, making them closer to the audience’s heart. The costumes also helped bring the show alive. While nothing exceedingly fancy, the costumes were well done especially for the window scenes. Every character looked appropriate for the setting, including the ludicrously science fiction Christmas Carol. As for the lighting, it illuminated the stage almost as if they were on a city street where the only lights were from store windows.
All the choices made by director Jim Simpson combine to make Stephen Banks’ play come to life in a more substantial way. The thoughts about the meaning of Christmas are sometimes lost beneath the humor, but both are good reasons to watch this show for $25, but make sure to do so before Thursday of next week as the show ends on the 30th. The show doesn’t drag along even though the majority of the action is between two actors, instead their performance brings at the an amusing look at Christmas that is sure to leave a smile on your face and some thoughts in your head.
Here’s the website for the theater. http://www.theflea.org/