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The Arts
12.08.10

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Phaedra
Photograph by Eric Chazankin
CARELESS WHISPERS: Shad Willingham rallies residents of radio land in the excellent 'Ham for the Holidays.'

Sweet & Sour

Sixth Street serves up tasty 'Ham'; the Rep stages discordant 'Carol'

By David Templeton


Ham, from a purely dietary point of view (issues of factory farming and kosher practices aside), is much tastier than it is healthy—and let's face it, that's part of its appeal. The same could be said of Ham for the Holidays, the effervescently silly Christmas comedy written, starring and directed by Shad Willingham.

It's Christmas Eve in the winter of 1939, and a freak snowstorm has struck the tiny town of Hamlin, Ga., where the staff of a small radio station is awaiting the arrival of Orson Welles. The radio star has agreed to appear as the voice of God in the station's big Christmas radio play, but due to a series of mishaps, Welles is a no-show, and instead of the expected script, the station is delivered fruitcake.

With just moments until airtime, aspiring screenwriter and radio actor Dexter (Willingham) quickly adapts his own radio drama, Attack of the Space Robots from Outer Space, which he'd been hoping to impress Welles with. By changing the title of the play to Attack of the Christmas Robots from Outer Space, the station employees are back in business, and the bulk of the play—clearly inspired by The Carol Burnett Show and other classic television sketch comedy—follows the hapless radio crew (including Dodds Delzell, Norman A. Hall, Christmas Collins, Kendall Carol, Jimmy Gagarin and Samson Hood) while they desperately attempt to finish the broadcast as one thing after another keeps going wrong.

Adding to the madness is the fact that the station's heater has become stuck on high, and as the night proceeds, the room keeps warming up, causing the overheated actors to start shedding their clothes. What could be more heartwarming than a Christmas play in which everyone ends up in their underwear by the madcap conclusion? It's all supremely silly, a bit overdone, but remarkably satisfying, exactly like a big old Christmas ham.

Less satisfying, unfortunately, is the Sonoma County Repertory Theater's new production of Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol. The Rep has performed Carol in one form or another every December for over a decade. This year's offering brings us a world premiere script by the usually brilliant Jon Tracy.

Starring Joe Winkler (who delivered one of the all-time great performances in the Rep's Tuesdays with Morrie), this uncomfortably straightforward, overly academic retelling of the Scrooge story (with Scrooge telling the tale after he's become a nice person) effectively strips the story of its dramatic tension and wry humor. The direction, by Scott Phillips, is rushed in its pacing, is sometimes confusing (with six actors playing all the parts, dressed in similar clothes, it's hard to tell who is who at times), and overall shows little of the invention and creativity for which Phillips is known. Even the great Winkler, as Scrooge, is strangely perfunctory and listless.

This is one Carol that's just no fun to listen to.

'Ham for the Holidays' runs Thursday–Sunday through Dec. 19 in the Studio at Sixth Street Playhouse. Thursday–Saturday at 8pm; 2pm matinees, Saturday-Sunday. 56 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. $10–$25. 707.523.4185. 'A Christmas Carol' runs Thursday–Sunday through Dec. 19 at Sonoma County Repertory Theater. Thursday–Sunday at 8pm; 2pm matinees, Saturday–Sunday. 104 N. Main Street, Sebastopol. $20–$25. 707.823.0177.


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