Theaterworks, Hartford, CT
Through December 23, 2016
By R.E. Smith
Like the cherished holiday movies and TV specials from which its characters spring, “Christmas on the Rocks” is fast becoming its own cherished seasonal tradition. Director Rob Ruggiero has conceived a holiday confection using all the right magical ingredients. He starts with original short stories written by the likes of John Cariani ("Almost Maine"), Jeffrey Hatcher ("Tuesdays With Morrie"), and Jonathan Tolins ("Buyer & Cellar"). Then he stirs in adult versions of iconic pop-culture figures, such as Tiny Tim, Charlie Brown, and Clara from the Nutcracker. Mixed with a solid serving of talent from three performers playing multiple roles and a dash of creative costuming, “Rocks” fourth Theatreworks appearance makes for an entertaining yuletide feast.
|Jenn Harris & Ronn Carroll|
Much credit must be given to Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas for bringing absolutely unique life to their various roles. Multiple refrains of “I had no idea it was the same person” were heard upon leaving the theatre. Each has the opportunity to play broadly humorous and touchingly melancholy with equal aplomb. Pulling double duty, Harris and Wilkas also wrote a new piece for this year’s production; a riff on social media frenzy from a “Frosty the Snowman” perspective that was a crowd pleaser. What works well is that the characters don’t necessarily take the most obvious path, with the playwrights often using more subtle points as the jumping off point, as is the case of Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” or Susan from “Miracle on 34th Street”.
Holding it all together is Ronn Carroll as the barkeep of a tiny bar (lovingly executed by set designer Michael Schweikardt). Having “seen it all,” he quickly shows the audience how to suspend disbelief and go along with the (sleigh) ride. His experience at playing this part for all 4 years of the show’s run is evident, especially in his ability to not break character in the face of some outlandish antics (and clever puns).
For those not intimately familiar with the source material, be sure to take a stroll through the lobby where characters’ more “youthful” photos hang. Even so, now that they’re “all grown up” they display universal attributes that anyone can relate to as they try to find the spirit of the season despite disillusionment and disappointment.
For those who long for something different (funnier) from the customary “A Christmas Carol” or “The Nutcracker,” your (Christmas) wish has come true once again at Theaterworks.