Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 9, 2023

REVIEW: TheaterWorks Hartford, "Christmas on the Rocks"

TheaterWorks Hartford, Hartford CT
through December 23, 2023
by Jarice Hanson
Jen Cody as "Karen"
From the moment you enter the theater and see the set flanked by two video screens running scenes from favorite childhood classic television shows and hear pre-show Christmas carols at bar-level volume, you know this show will be something a little different. The references to childhood icons and contemporary music trigger memories of Christmases past—the good—the bad—and the weird. For 95-minutes the audience becomes a family of strangers who are united by the collective popular culture that surrounds the Holiday Season.
“Christmas on the Rocks” was originally conceived of and directed by Rob Ruggiero in 2013, and Ruggiero has continued to direct all 11 iterations of the show since then. The concept is simple, but beautifully set up: the set is a seedy bar on Christmas Eve, with various characters from old TV programs popping in for a scene with the bartender. This year, the bartender, “Larry,” is played by the wonderful Richard Kline, known to many in the audience from the old television show, “Three’s Company” where he also played a character named “Larry." And the audience loves him.
Two actors, Harry Bouvy and Jen Cody have returned this year to alternate in the 8 scenes written by 7 different playwrights: John Cariani, Judy Gold, Jenn Harris, Jeffrey Hatcher, Jacques Lamarre, Edwin Sanchez, and Matthew Wilkas. One of this year’s new offerings, “A Smidge of Midge” by Edwin Sanchez and Jacques Lamarre, capitalizes on this year’s big hit, “Barbie,” but the show wraps up with an old favorite, “Merry Christmas, Blockhead” by Lamarre that is funny, poignant, and just the right note on which to tie the bow on this Holiday gift to the audience. 
It's clear that this show has become a favorite for many families (those with older children because of the adult situations and language) and groups of friends, because some people in the audience couldn’t help but laugh out loud or mutter something like “I love this one” when they saw Bouvy or Cody enter as characters they loved. Familiarity, whether it is with the actors, the characters, or the situations, fits the intimate space of TheaterWorks Hartford and makes this a Holiday celebration even the most holiday-weary audience member can enjoy. 
Kline, Cody, and Bouvy obviously love working together and their chemistry on stage is palpable. They seem to be having a wonderful time, and the audience apparently agrees. “Christmas on the Rocks” is a marker of our culture—especially for those of us who grew up with television as a part of our holiday, and a celebration of our collective past. It’s nice to see characters we recognize, even though they’ve grown up and have grown-up problems.  And yes, as the program professes, it is a little bit naughty.