note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Wackiness reigns supreme at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, with the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s premiere of its newest family-appropriate show, “The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged),” written by, directed, and starring Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, with zany partner, Matt Rippy.
They’re also the dynamic trio who brought down the house with gales of laughter last year at Merrimack Rep, with their show, “The Complete World of Sports (abridged),” and have left audiences, internationally and nationally, laughing with their irreverent but clever “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged),” which even anti-Shakespeareans hailed;“The Complete History of America (abridged),” and “The Bible:The Complete Word of God (abridged)”.
In “The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged),” the trio bounces on and off the stage with non-stop energy and comedy, glibness, fractured puns, social irreverence, and lots of audience participation, keeping theatergoers alert and, at times, paranoid during this two-act, fast-paced romp that’s rife with split-second costume and character changes.
The audience has no warning when those house lights flash on, putting them in the spotlight. And they love it. That element of surprise and being an integral part of the show ratchets up the laugh meter, whether individuals are singled out at their seats, or hauled onstage, to portray the holy family during an off-the-wall nativity skit.
Early in the first act, theatergoers enthusiastically participated in adding their own choices to the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” as Tichenor climbed up the aisles and over seats to include responses from folks in the “cheap seats” (balcony).
The three start off with fanfare, presenting the St. Everybody’s Universalist Church Multicultural Interfaith Holiday Variety Show and Christmas Pageant, but they have problems. Although the day we attended, the outdoor thermostat hit an unseasonal mid-60 degrees, the trio claimed the raging storm outdoors delayed all acts’ arrival, such as opening hip-hop holiday act, the Snowmen from Des Moines, Iowa, and second-act Confederate Christmas Carolers of Charleston, SC, presenting traditional old-fashioned Christmas Carols.
The three plunge into their shtick, interrupting themselves frequently with updates on whether acts are stuck at Logan Airport or their planes never made it off the ground.
Each performer has his own holiday hang-up, too. Martin has a fear of Santa, Rippy loves presents and wants a $36,000 Harley for Christmas, and Tichenor is a pagan or agnostic of sorts - (he says he’s a Utilitarian), but that doesn’t stop them from twisting holiday traditions and celebrating the diversity of the season, tongue-in-cheek.
“White Christmas” takes on a whole new meaning, with a KKK treatment that produces audible gasps - and good-natured laughter - during this Christmas (w)rapping session.
Seeing Tichenor “don his gay apparel” (don’t ask - you have to see it to appreciate it) or his takeoff on holiday flights to “The Night Before Christmas” are moments to remember.
Rippy and Co. present a mix of comical and poignant letters to Santa, including the traditional one from little Virginia many years ago, and another from Sarah Palin, who “can see the North Pole from her house”. Nothing is sacred, with one-liners like, “You know why Santa’s so jolly? He knows where all the naughty girls are.”
Rippy and Martin are outstanding as pretend puppets Billy Barty Ballet Company, performing family favorite, “Lil Nutsy: the Elf Nutcracker;” and the trio are divine as the BeeGees and Wolf Blitzen.
These three shepherds of silliness create a new, fun meaning to holiday irreverence, and old-fashioned, inoffensive comedy.
BOX INFO: Premiere of two-act holiday comedy, written and directed by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, co-starring Matt Rippy, (The Reduced Shakespeare Company), appearing at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre (50 E. Merrimack St., Lowell) through Dec. 18: Fridays, 8 p.m.; Wednesdays, Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 4,8 p.m.; Sundays, 2,7 p.m.; also Dec. 18, 2 p.m. only. Tickets start at $24, with discounts for seniors, students and groups. For more information, including special related events, visit www.MerrimackRep.org or call 978-654-4678.