Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Christmas Revels, In Celebration of the Winter Solstice"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


director … Patrick Swanson
musical director … George Emlen
producer … Virginia Morton

Sankt Nikolaus … Richard Snee
Knecht Ruprecht; Dr. Frood … Debra Wise
Frau Holle … Renni Boy
Soloist for “Muth (Courage)” … Janine Wanée
Strolling Player; Bear … Giles Holt
Strolling Player; Bear Handler … Sarah Hebert-Johnson
Soloists for “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” … Claire Dickson or Maya Domeshek
Fool … David Torrey
Brunnhilda … Donald A. Duncan
Siegfried … David Coffin
Fafner the Dragon … Marty Tulloch
Fafner’s Tail … Linnea Coffin


The Weihnachts Chorus
Die Fröhlichen Kinderlein
The Bremen Town Musicians
Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble
Orion Longsword
The Silvesterchlausen Mummers
The Lord of the Dance
The Pinewoods Morris Men

The 36th annual production of THE CHRISTMAS REVELS, IN CELEBRATION OF THE WINTER SOLSTICE begins with a hushed, magical image of the mythic Frau Holle shaking out her featherbed and causing a snowstorm, immediately followed by Sankt Nikolaus and his imp Knecht Ruprecht, looking as if they stepped out of an old picture book, and when dozens of men, women and children troop on in their folk costumes to sing, dance and, well, revel, you may soon forget about holiday stresses and rediscover what the Yuletide season is really all about: to celebrate not only the birth of Christ but to rekindle the spirit of summer in the midst of dark, cold winter (notice how Christmas is a mixture of the Christian and the pagan?). This year’s production, focusing on German and Swiss traditions, is full of delights, simple and organic and true, and if there is a lesson being taught, here, it would be that the community that celebrates together is a strong, unshakeable one --- a far cry from today’s global village which shrinks even further with each new piece of technology but whose social skills (and heart) become more and more fragmented. My sole nitpik with the evening is that there is much too much revelry; Act Two, aside from a Wagnerian burlesque, is largely a chain of audience sing-a-longs (a sure sign of padding) and the evening’s folk dances would benefit greatly by cleaving their stage-time in half --- after awhile, I felt I was being fed endless slices of fruitcake, laden with fruit, nuts and rum and layered with marzipan, jam and frosting. One act, alone, would have satisfied me, quite nicely.

Donald A. Duncan’s Brunnhilda demonstrates that drag is all the funnier if the wearer is physically at odds with his attire (Mr. Duncan is tall, strapping and sports a moustache) but comports himself with modest dignity; Debra Wise, in her two turns, is an amazing little scamp, instantly likeable and mischievous, and possessing the right neutral style that makes good clowning timeless and universal. Richard Snee’s Sankt Nikolaus is the true revelation: this Germanic Father Christmas allows Mr. Snee to display a droll majesty, onstage, backed by plummy declamation that’s been hidden far too long under the mugs and lugs in which Mr. Snee has often been cast --- Mr. Snee also adds welcome salt to all that sweetness. I’ve been demanding his Willy Loman for some time, now; should Mr. Snee switch his bishop’s topper for an Elizabethan crown and retain his wig and beard, his Lear may be no laughing matter, either --- with Ms. Wise as his Fool, once she sheds her horns and Groucho-cigar.

"The Christmas Revels, In Celebration of the Winter Solstice" (15 - 30 December)
Sanders Theatre in Harvard’s Memorial Hall, 45 Quincy Street, CAMBRIDGE, MA
1 (617) 496-2222

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide