Broom Street Theater
The play attempts to bring both levity and gravitas to the stage in almost equal measures.
The Ghosts of Christmas Past by Broom Street Theater is a mostly madcap romp through the holiday season's cultural and emotional landscape. With an intimacy that only a small community theater can achieve, the play by Christina Beller and Scott Rawson manages to cover the turbulent ground of parental sexuality, loss of loved ones, social awkwardness, family dysfunction, painful in-law experiences and the just plain bad memories that seem to resurface for all of us this time of year.
Attempting to bring both levity and gravitas to the stage in almost equal measures, the production is a series of semi-interwoven vignettes bookended by a couple, Brad and Mindy, trying to overcome the insurmountable scheduling hurdle of finding time to have sex during the busy weeks before Christmas. It is a joke that goes nearly the entire length of the two-hour performance and never gets old.
What does get old, however, or at least frustrating, is the sense that The Ghosts of Christmas Past could have been better. In many of the heartfelt scenes in which we are expected to have deeply resonating responses, the characters are simply too clichéd. Especially during two monologues, the writing falters and nothing ties the sections to the rest of the work -- even though the acting is solid. One moment we're staring at the bell-adorned crocheted codpiece of a lusty and otherwise naked Santa (as hilarious as it sounds) and the next we're expected to relate to a Vietnam veteran's jungle experience.
It is even more confusing to have two long, heterosexual, white male monologues in a play that otherwise does a good job of celebrating diversity. This becomes particularly baffling when you have an actress like Ali Lemus -- who lends a motherly professional seriousness to every scene she is in -- and she isn't cast in a straightforwardly emotional monologue of her own.
Some other distractions are a few lost great moments. A potentially amazing, awkward and profoundly amusing vignette of a woman crying over a melting snowman and his remaining carrot nose is blown with bad lines at the end, and more than a few times the humor of the play is just too obvious and needlessly debased. While Jack Frost going down on Mrs. Claus is brilliant, a Santa shooting the Easter Bunny and calling it a "fucktard" falls flat.
What the production does really well is silly, sometimes slapstick, comedy. The two comedic leads, Jayshaun Jacobs and Scott Frazier, complement each other in their abilities to have truly uproarious moments, and they collegially trade-off stealing scenes. Jacobs is a great physical comedian who would instantly improve any Saturday Night Live skit (his take on a mother-in-law has to be one of the great performances of the season), while Frazier reveals comedic genius in unexpected lightning flashes leaving the audience wheezing with laughter (go to the show to see his sock puppets).
It is a pleasure of local theater that we can see our friends and neighbors take on new personas on the stage, and during the holidays this sense of community seems especially important. While many of the attempts to tug on our heartstrings don't quite work, luckily the play's pacing never seriously falters and even accelerates to a strong finish.
In a stroke of genius, the last scene of the production sees the actors invite the audience to join an already ensuing holiday party within the story. It is a supremely clever moment that brings holiday cheer and closure to an uneven but rewardingly breezy performance. It also just may succeed in exorcising a few lingering Christmas ghosts.