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'Christmas on the Rocks' glows with sparkling comedic performances

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A new holiday play, 'Christmas On The Rocks' at Theaterworks Hartford, CT


It’s a holiday gift of laughter to see the three immensely talented and charismatic actors offering over-the-top performances at Hartford’s TheaterWorks premiere of Christmas on the Rocks.

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The theater’s Producing Artistic Director, Rob Ruggiero, conceived this clever, seasonal treat for grown-up audiences. A multi-award-winning director, he wisely invited seven accomplished playwrights and three experienced Broadway performers to help him develop the show.

The roles written by the seven playwrights are an actor’s delight – actors, in this case, who are masters of their craft.

The comedy’s setting is Christmas Eve in a rundown bar. The bartender thinks he’s in for a slow night until a trickle of middle-agers drop in and pour out their hard-luck stories. These are not garden-variety imbibers, but sometimes recognizable child characters from time-honored Christmas specials, movies and stage productions, all grown-up and a bit twisted by life’s disappointments.

Here’s the one major caveat emptor: Audience knowledge of the most-popular Christmas shows of the past 50 years is imperative Without that knowledge, we sat through a couple of scenes asking ourselves “who’s that character?”

There is an assumption on the part of the playwrights that each person sitting in the theater knows all about every annual holiday production. In our case, and some folks within whispering distance, that assumption is far from the truth.

The play opens with the bartender (the gifted Ronn Carroll) turning on a TV and flipping through the channels. Audio snippets of a variety of holiday fare is heard – but not seen.

That omission of visuals is a problem with this production. There should be at least a couple of monitors behind and adjacent to the bar so the audience can see the broadcasted holiday fare.

Clips of the shows featuring the characters spoofed in Christmas On The Rocks should be shown. Those visuals would help the audience who are unfamiliar with many of these shows to put the characters into proper perspective.

Never having seen A Christmas Story, A Charlie Brown Christmas or what ballet dancers call The Ballbreaker, we were mystified as to the in-jokes and situations which sent many of our fellow audience members into howls of laughter.

Several of entrances and exits could use more clarity and comedy! For instance, an Elf’s entrance and exit were written and played to comedic perfection. The audience roared. The writers should that scene as a benchmark for several of the other scenes.

As for seeing the show now, not to worry, the comic genius of Harry Bouvy and Christine Pedi, each brilliantly playing four distinctively different characters, and the equally talented Ronn Carroll, as the bartender, provide laugh-out-loud performances that make this show mostly an uproarious night in the theater.

This is a fresh, new work-in-progress that was cobbled together quickly and with great skill by Santa’s theatrical helpers. It is well known that all good theatrical works are not written, but re-written and have been ever since the Greeks created the Western tradition of comedy and tragedy.

The seven writers of Christmas on the Rocks are Pulitzer Prize nominee Theresa Rebeck. Jonathan Tolins (Buyer & Cellar), Jeffrey Hatcher (Tuesdays with Morrie). Matthew Lombardo (High starring Kathleen Turner and Looped starring Valerie Harper in a Tony nominated performance) John Cariani (Almost, Maine). Jacques Lamarre (I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti) and Edwin Sanchez winner of National Latino Playwriting Award for La Bella F amilia.

The production design team deserves a curtain call. They are Michael Schweikardt (Sets), Alejo Vieti (Costumes), Mary Jo Dondlinger (Lights) and Michael Miceli (Sound) and the production manager is Michael Lenaghan.

We hope Christmas On The Rocks will again be back next December all brightly polished - by the seven playwrights and the director. The actors are already glowing with a sparkling shine.

If you go:

TheaterWorks, City Arts on Pearl, 233 Pearl Street in Downtown Hartford, Conn.

Through December 22, 2013
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 7:30 pm
Friday 8:00 pm
Saturday 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm
Sunday 2:30 pm and 6:30 pm

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday $35
Friday, Saturday $40
Subscribers $10 off
Center Reserved $15 additional
Student Rush w/ID (subject to availability) $15

Group Rates Call
For seats: 860-527-7838

Written by Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle

Be sure to click on the Slideshow, the Video of Rob Ruggiero, and SUBSCRIBE so that you can get all of our articles emailed to you as soon as they are published.



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