I suspect I will not see a better play than this until January. At any other time of year that would be quite an endorsement, but now it's just a symptom of the season: Holidazed, a new play by local novelist Marc Acito and screenwriter C.S. Whitcomb, is the first snowflake in this year's blizzard of holiday shows.
It is something of a cliché for reviewers to gripe about the money-making schmaltz-fests of December—I do, every year—but, really, they're not so bad. There's a lot to enjoy in the pageantry, sentimentalism and inevitable singing of a well-executed holiday show. Things only tend to get ugly when an enterprising playwright attempts to tell a story outside of the accepted canon. Try to buck the genre and you're bound to end up just rehashing the same old chestnuts.
Holidazed mostly avoids this phenomenon. The play centers on Julia (Susannah Mars), a devoted working mother of three who dreads the onset of the winter holidays, when she is expected to generate magic nightly while her schlub of a husband, Scott (Damon Kupper), sits around forwarding amusing emails to his friends. Her life is further complicated by the nagging ghost of her activist mother (Karen Boettcher-Tate) and her decision on Halloween to take in a homeless pagan teenager named Luna (Ana Reiselman).
By tackling the holidays as a feminist issue, Acito and Whitcomb do indeed find a new angle on the Christmas show, and the play does include a few moments of genuine hilarity—most notably a tense Thanksgiving with Julia's right-wing in-laws and a yuletide drag routine by Todd Van Voris as her gay college friend. But the script gets bogged down not by Acito's corniness (the man never met an alliterative quip he didn't like) but by the writers' refusal to jettison the right Christmas tropes. Why, if you want to escape the shadow of Scrooge, do you include a cautionary ghost? The saccharine supernatural scenes momentarily derail the otherwise well-paced comedy.
That said, the show is a lot of fun, and fairly touching. Mars and Van Voris are as good as usual, and the kids are cute in a hellish way. You could do much worse for holiday entertainment—I know I will before the month is done.
: Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., 241-1278. 7:30 pm Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 pm Sundays, 11 am Dec. 10 and 17. Closes Dec. 28. No show Thanksgiving or Christmas Day. $20-$47.