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November 21, 2006

Gift Guide: Holiday Season on stage

A Tuna Christmas: Photo by Harlan Taylor Bill McKinley and Scheffield Chastain in a past performance of “A Tuna Christmas” at Actors Theatre of Louisville.The sight of trees changing their foliage to the warm colors of fall accompanies the fragrance of crackling fireplaces in the air. These are the smells and sights that prepare us for what lies ahead — winter and its slew of popular holidays. Yet right now, I am looking out the window and it’s cold and — let’s just face it — frightful. Our introduction to the cold months thus far has been a chilly drizzle of cats and dogs driving us to the solace of the indoors.But the comfort of staying home doesn’t last long. Holiday stress demands we get out; it’s fast approaching and it won’t release its vice-like grip until 2007. We’ll have to brave the cold and trudge through the shopping, traveling and out-of-town relatives. Why not give yourself a break and go catch a play or ballet? It’s easy to forget that the holiday season also brings the gift of entertainment, shared through the talents of our artists.Where to start? There are the classics, of course. Actors Theatre of Louisville re-tells Ebenezer Scrooge’s storyA Christmas Survival Guide: Photo courtesy of Derby Dinner Playhouse Kate Riley, Philip Drennen and Michelle Johnson in Derby Dinner Playhouse’s production of “A Christmas Survival Guide.” in Fifth Third Bank’s “A Christmas Carol.” The Charles Dickens classic tale of three ghosts visiting a rich and selfish old man on Christmas Eve gets a new twist, thanks to director Wendy McClellan, who’s picked a more ethnically diverse cast that gives the play a more contemporary feel.Actors also presents its annual two-man play, “A Tuna Christmas,” named for its setting of Tuna, Texas. The classic is known for fast sketches and dialogue, as two actors portray the many varied characters of Tuna’s populace. This year sees the return of “Tuna” veteran Bill McGinley, who joins a fresh face, newcomer Brad DePlanche. Actors’ Kyle Shepherd says the show remains popular because it is genuinely funny. ATL artistic director Marc Masterson is a bit more specific: “Seeing amazing actors do ridiculous things with Southern accents and lightning-fast costume changes,” he says, “makes the show ever-popular.”Perhaps your appetite needs something quirky but still with a holiday theme? Derby Dinner Playhouse’s “A Christmas Survival Guide” is a musical comedy in which the over-stressed heroes find the true essence of Christmas, thanks to a — you guessed it — Christmas Survival Guide. The show is full of vignettes, and featured songs include “Reindeer Boogie,” “O Holy Night,” “Silver Bells” and “Carol of the Bells.”For something even more unconventional, there’s “Don We Now Our Gay Apparel” by Pandora Productions. Last year the troupe performed “Homo for the Holidays,” a serious dramatic piece that grappled with the issue of being gay and coming home to deal with the family during the holidays. Pandora’s Michael Drury, who directs “Don We Now Our Gay Apparel,” wanted to do a 180-degree turn this year and try some comedy. Don We Know Our Gay Apparel: Photo courtesy of Pandora Production What does it all mean? Pandora Production’s debut staging of “Don We Know Our Gay Apparel” will explore the possible answers.“Don We Know Our Gay Apparel: Photo courtesy of Pandora Production What does it all mean? Pandora Production’s debut staging of “Don We Know Our Gay Apparel” will explore the possible answers. is irreverent and outrageous,” he says, adding that the play should help viewers expel stress and replace it with laughter. The cast will do improvisational sketches, much like “Kids in the Hall.” The play is set during Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, and touches on Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Drury dropped a couple more hints: One of the settings is an Orient Bar, and the cast of characters includes three queens.You may not be in the minority if the holiday season puts you in a murderous mood. If homicide does cross your mind this winter, you might get out your angst by watching a murder mystery — better to let someone else do the actual deed while you lighten the darkness of your soul. This year, Who Dunnit Murder Mystery Theater presents “The Twelve Murders of Christmas.” It essentially revolves around six strangers who attend a holiday feast at a mansion, where they get locked in for the night. One among them is trying to kill the others, and the only clue is, the butler didn’t do it. What intrigues me a bit is that the title refers to 12 murders, but there are only six guests. I suppose we’ll have to attend the show to solve this numerical dilemma.And if you want to be part of the action in a holiday murder mystery, The Murder Club has a game awaiting you. It’s called “Slay Belles Ring,” and they promise it is both naughty and nice. This show contains mature themes, so bringing the family along may not be a good idea. The Murder Club tries to simulate a murder scene as authentically as possible, down to spattered blood, while testing its cast’s improvisational skills. The audience can choose whether to watch or be part of the mystery. We can’t forget the family units that need something G-rated to entertain the wee ones. Enter the Blue Apple Players, whose “An American Pioneer Christmas,” about a pioneer family traveling over the Appalachians during the Christmas holiday, is sure to appeal to the youngsters and to warm the hearts of all. Another show geared for the younger crowd is Derby Dinner Playhouse’s “A Winnie the Pooh Christmas Tail,” one of its Children’s productions.Maybe you are more admiring of graceful, fluid bodies gliding effortlessly across a stage. If so, you can choose from two productions of “The Nutcracker.” Louisville Ballet performs “The Brown-Forman Nutcracker,” which is the same classic show but now with a title sponsor. And the University of Louisville’s Dance Department offers its own version of “The Nutcracker,” which goes by the name “Clara’s Dream.” Judy Hake, a member of U of L’s Dance Academy, says it’s the standard “Nutcracker,” but the focus is on the part of the story where Clara dreams of being in The Land of Sweets. “Clara’s Dream” doesn’t have the prologue of the original show, but instead commences in the Snow Scene. It maintains the original Tchaikovsky score. If you’re oversaturated with holiday themes but still want to get away from the hubbub, why not try something that has nothing to do with the insanity (and joys) of the holiday season? For instance, there’s Walden Theatre’s “Language of Angels,” a ghost story about a girl who disappears in a Tennessee cave, which, of course, prompts an investigation to find out what happened to her. The Little Colonel Players take “Harvey” out of the vault and perform a play based on the film, of James Stewart fame, with the same title. It’s a story of a man and his imaginary friend Harvey, a rabbit. Although the show sounds like a children’s story, it’s actually geared toward older audiences.If you want to get off the beaten path of stage shows, the Squallis Puppeteers perform “Monstruppets,” a scary show not suitable for younger audiences. Jeff Goode tackles the God question in “Anger Box” in a series of monologues, presented by the Wayward Actors Company. And there are improv shows this season by The Indicators.All told, this year’s batch of holiday (and non-holiday) stage shows will bring good tidings to Louisville, with something to please children, adults, holiday-lovers and those who just don’t care for the holidays. If we all get out and support our performers, that’s hitting two birds with one stone — we support our own community and relieve some holiday stress in the process. Can you find a better deal, even on the Internet? We don’t think so!Enjoy. Go-to theater guide Holiday Shows• Actors Theatre of Louisville: “A Tuna Christmas,” through Jan. 4, $28-$40, Victor Jory Theatre; “Fifth Third Bank’s A Christmas Carol,” through Dec. 23, $22-$40, Pamela Brown Auditorium; 316 W. Main St., 584-1205, www.actorstheatre.org.• Blue Apple Players: “An American Pioneer Christmas,” Dec. 13-16, $6-$8, Brown Theatre, 315 W. Broadway, (800) 587-7990, www.blueappleplayers.org.• Derby Dinner Playhouse: “A Christmas Survival Guide,” through Dec. 31, $27-$40; Children’s Musical Theatre: “A Winnie the Pooh Christmas Tail,” Nov. 25, Dec. 2, 9, 16, 23, $15-$20; 525 Marriott Drive, Clarksville (812) 288-8281, www.derbydinner.com.• Louisville Ballet: “The Nutcracker,” Dec. 9-23, $26-$76, at Whitney Hall, Kentucky Center, 583-3150, www.louisvilleballet.org.• The Murder Club Theater Company: “Slay Belles Ring,” December, $25+up; client reserves location, 797-5634, www.the-murder-club.com.• Pandora Productions: “Don We Know Our Gay Apparel,” Dec. 28-Jan. 7, $13-$15, Thrust Theatre at U of L, 2314 S. Floyd St., (812) 288-7686, www.pandoraprods.org. • U of L Dance Theatre: “Clara’s Dream,” Nov. 30-Dec. 2, $8-$12, Comstock Hall at U of L. • Who Dunnit Murder Mystery Theater: “The Twelve Murders of Christmas,” through Jan. 6, $39.95 includes meal, at Masterson’s on Saturdays, 1830 S. Third St., 426-7100, www.whodunnitky.com.Non-Holiday Shows• The Indicators Improv: Improv Show, Dec. 10, Bearno’s by the Bridge, 131 W. Main St., www.indicatorsimprov.com. • Little Colonel Players: “Harvey,” Nov. 30, Dec. 1-2, 8-10, $10-$12, 302 Mt. Mercy Dr., Pewee Valley, 588-1557, members.aol.com/peweelcp/. • Squallis Puppeteers: “Monstruppets,” Dec. 29-31, $50/hour/puppet, 414 Baxter Ave., 540-4977, www.squallispuppeteers.com. • Walden Theatre: “Language of Angels,” Nov. 30, Dec. 1-2, 7-9, $7-$15, at MeX Theater, Kentucky Center, 589-0091 or 589-0084, www.waldentheatre.org. •Wayward Actors Company: “Anger Box,” Dec. 28-31, Jan. 4-7, $15, at MeX Theater, Kentucky Center, www.waywardactors.org.