The cast of The Kings of Christmas. Photo courtesy of The Bard’s Town.

The Kings of Christmas

Written by Doug Schutte
Directed by Doug Schutte & Scot Atkinson

By Carlos-Manuel

Copyright © 2012 Carlos Manuel. All rights reserved.

It is the “Holiday Season” or “Christmas Time,” if you prefer. So, you say you want to go out and get in the spirit of the season by attending the theatre. You look online or in a magazine and you see there are several Christmas themed productions going on. Suddenly you find yourself having to make choices.

Forget about A Christmas Carol. It’s old and we all already know the story. Besides, it is cheesy and after all these years, it’s becoming a bore. Then you see A Christmas Story, another staple of the American Christmas popular culture. But hey, why pay money to go see something that you can actually see for free in the comfort of your own home? Besides, the staged show is exactly as the movie; really, there is nothing magical about it.

Suddenly you run your finger or your cursor over a title: The Kings of Christmas, an original show produced by The Bard’s Town Theatre and written by theatre founder, Doug Schutte.

You don’t know what the play is about. But there is a disclaimer: “This show contains language that may not be suitable for children.” That is a good sign because: (a) at least you know it won’t be cheesy; and (b) it has been done only once before. The show promises to be fresh, exciting and, according to the description, it is “brisk, irreverent, laugh-fill-fun,” turning the “Scrooge-iest types with holiday cheers.”

You decide to go see it, arrive at the theater, get yourself a couple of drinks, taking one with you into the performing space (one of the great advantages of going to see shows at The Bard’s Town), and settle into your reserved seat to be ready for craziness.

And crazy fun it is. From the beginning to the end, the show is packed with witty one-liners, over-the-top characters, and a plot that can only be conjured by someone who understands the meaning of theatricality.

These types of plays require a group of actors and a director who have a certain affinity with camp and melodrama mixed with a slight touch of sincerity. Luckily, the author, who also acts as a co-director, gathered a fine group of “leave-it-all-out-on-the-stage” actors who are not afraid to move beyond realism.

Mr. Schutte plays Uncle Frank; he opens the play with a monologue very much a la Christopher Duran: the writing, the delivery, the exaggeration all fit in within such realm.  He sets the pace and the mood for the rest of the cast, who easily follow his timing and energy.

The show is about The King Family, who are gathering together for yet another infamous Christmas celebration. They’ve done this for the last 10 years and have never missed it – no matter what. All would be okay if it wasn’t for Carter, the oldest of the children, played by Scot Atkinson who also has the double duty of co-directing. Carter is bitter, angry and disillusioned and has created a hard shell around him to protect himself from everyone. But on this particular Christmas visit, things are going to be different, of course. His life becomes a topsy-turvy series of events, each of them more outrageous than the next. And as audience members, we accept each of those events, mainly because the playwright has introduced a group of strange characters who have assuredly established their ‘weirdness’ from the very beginning.

Jake Beamer plays Kennedy, a wannabe magician (like his father) who is bad at everything magical yet believes he is better than Harry Potter. Harry Potter (as we all know) isn’t real but, apparently, to Kennedy, he is. Ben Gierhart portrays Clinton, the nerdy scientist son who isn’t very bright. Then we have Beth Tantanella as Wendy, the neighbor’s daughter. She is beautiful, sultry and very much infatuated (actually borderline obsessed) with Carter. And, finally, there is Jennifer Levine, playing the role of Carol King, the head of the family who has developed a double personality in order to deal with certain realities and issues. Of the lot, the weakest of them all is Ms. Levine, who doesn’t quite seem to find the character of Mrs. King. Having two personalities might be fun, but the duality isn’t explored as much as it could have been. I do understand she’s aware, as is everyone else in her family, that she’s pretending to be someone else. But, still, I didn’t believe her character at all, except in one of the flashback scenes where she wears a sparkling red dress and she seems to be “younger, prettier and happier.”

The first act seems very random and heading nowhere fast. In fact, there were times where I personally lost interest, either because “it was too silly” to care for the moment, or because I sort of knew what was coming. This could be dangerous, because if as an audience member you become bored, you might end up leaving at intermission, which is exactly what happened with the two couples seated next to me. The second act is more concrete; it explains how things happen and why they happened the way they did. In short, it brings logic to what seems to be missing in act one.

To make sense of the Kings’ family life, the playwright borrows the premise from A Christmas Carol, where a ghost comes to warn Carter about other ghosts coming to visit him. Things do not happen exactly as in the Dickens classic, but the main idea of going to the past, to the present and the future do follow suite. Then, at the end, with just enough sincerity to make us believe in Christmas once again, Carter’s protective wall breaks down, making him into someone who loves, feels and cares for everyone in his family, including Wendy.

Like the two couples who left, I personally did not like, or enjoy, everything about the show. But the audience (full house) who wasthere was in an uproar throughout the performance. This is mainly because the actors embraced their characters to the fullest and did not shy away from the silliness of it all.

So, if you want to go see a Christmas show this holiday season, pick The Kings of Christmas because it is silly, outrageous and well-acted. You won’t learn anything from it, but you won’t be disappointed either because the show is very entertaining. And if you have a couple of drinks beforehand, the show is even better.

The Kings of Christmas

December 13-16, 20-23 (all shows at 7:30). These shows typically sell out prior to the day of show. Tickets are $15, with $10 tickets for students and seniors.

The Bard’s Town

1801 Bardstown Road

Louisville, KY 40205