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November 28th, 2007 Stephen Marc Beaudoin | Theater
 

Christmas Festival of Lights at the Grotto

A half-million lights, and no stars in sight.

     
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IMAGE: larry kirby

If you’re planning to waste $7 on any particular holiday performance this season, allow me to unequivocally recommend an evening of surpassing delight and whimsy in outer Northeast Portland. But to fully appreciate the experience, may I suggest the following:

Gather five of your most ridiculous friends, pack a bag of bacon-maple bars and Jack Daniels, and then proceed immediately to the Grotto’s Christmas Festival of Lights. Hilarity will ensue.

Once you’re intoxicated, sugar-high and among the dazzling forest of lights, the uncountable Festival inanities miraculously melt into delirious high camp entertainment. Take, for instance, the “Living History Outdoor Drama,” a 20-minute Compleat Story of the Birth of Jesus Christ (Abridged) played on a postage stamp-size stage near the central courtyard. Surely the Christopher Guest-style writing (“Yes I could have missed it, this miracle. But I didn’t—thanks to you!”) and performance (high-school production values, broad acting) was intended to be enjoyed tongue-in-cheek. Or under the influence.

One of the Festival’s highly touted attractions is their choral series in the Grotto’s stately Chapel of Mary. Each night from Thanksgiving to the New Year, amateur choral groups from Gresham to the ’Couv race through holiday tunes while friends and family cheer loudly. It’s always a crapshoot. Lucky me, then, to discover the ladies of the Columbia River Chorus in glorious holiday sweater-bedecked form this past Sunday.

“Rudolph has been injured mid-flight over Barcelona,” a chorister relayed with mock horror in their punchy set. “The reindeer in Spain was hit mainly by plane!” Then the grandmas and aunts launch into another bright-voiced barbershop carol complete with illustrating gestures, proving finally that the art of choralography was not in fact dead, just in need of enthusiastic revival.

There are other absurdist trappings: a quartet of cheerless carolers; a volunteer who will bark, “Hats off!” as you enter the Chapel. The food booth sells hot chocolate from a vending machine. You can buy a personal-size bottle of officially sanctioned holy water from the gift shop. Roaming families spontaneously smile and say, “God Bless!” Squealing children roam freely. I fled after 90 minutes.


see it. The Grotto, National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, Northeast 85th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard, 261-4200. Gates open 5-9:30 pm, grounds close at 10 pm. Through Dec. 30 (closed Christmas day). $3-$7.
 
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