In For a Penny: Holidaze

Charles Lewis III, just in time for the holidays.

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“Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving; nobody’s walking out on this old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no, we’re all in this together! This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on and we’re gonna have the hap-ha-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-dance with Danny-fuckin’-Kaye! And when Santa squeezes his fat White ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse!”
– John Hughes, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

I’m not a big fan of Christmas. I didn’t plan on starting with that line, but considering that the other options I had for this week’s thread mostly revolved around the US’s supposed predilection for violence and one-upsmanship and my taking a look a lot of “classic American” plays that revolve around the idea that in order for you to be successful, someone else has to fail; adding to that a last-minute commentary about recent national tragedy and scandals and how a play I wrote is currently showing some uncomfortable parallels to allegations recently made in the adult film industry… after contemplating all of that, I decided to take the high road and focus on a subject much more easily digestible, namely Christmas. Specifically how it’s not at all my favorite holiday.

It’s not that I hate it, it’s just that once that I hit age, oh let’s say 20, I developed that Charlie Brown-esque disdain for all that “the Christmas season” represents. I don’t need to be reminded of the economic fundamentals that help us thrive, but that hasn’t improved my impression of shameless materialism. That may have more to do with the fact that the same economy has yet to provide me with a full-time job over the past few years, but that’s another story. I had to pinpoint one specific aspect I despise, it’s the idea that you have to be happy this time of year; you don’t have a choice in the matter. If this cold-as-a-witch’s-teat season doesn’t naturally fill you with skull-exploding merriment, then it means you’ve fired shots in the imaginary culture war that rages around you, because Communism or something.

As a theatre person, getting me to see a Christmas-themed play is akin to pulling my teeth. Since I’ll likely be spending most of the day emptying my bank for the sake of my family and friends (although I’m proud of my “shop local” ethic), the last thing I want to throw away two hours consciously ingesting the very “merriment” I’m trying to avoid. That’s why I’m less likely to head out to see A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker as I would a piece that consciously subverts the forced happiness of this cold month.

It breaks my heart that our colleagues at PianoFight won’t be staging their annual production of Dan Heath’s Merry Forking Christmas. The play, which originated at PF as a spin-off of the original Forking, hilariously skewers SF consumers, drug dealers, and mall Santas – in other words, right up my alley. And Theater Pub itself has originated a couple of Christmas-crushing productions that put a smile on my face just thinking about them. I’m still kicking myself for having never seen the Gentiles’ Crappy Holidays live, especially since two of the ‘Pub’s columnists acted in it. Thankfully the internet has preserved it for the ages.

Even before that, I myself took part in the ‘Pub’s first-ever Xmas-themed show, Code Red, a collection of monologues and shorts – mostly presented in the form of an AA meeting – from adults who are traumatized to learn that Santa isn’t real. My piece isn’t very well-written, but it’s presented alongside a lot of pieces that really are and they all have fun slaughtering the sacred cow that is Christmas’ most famous mascot.

After that first year, the ‘Pub started a tradition of doing musicals for their December entries. You might think that means a more upbeat story, but given that the two musical selections revolved around public crucifixion and AIDS, respectively, it was keeping in the tradition of recognizing this season as the downer it really is. Just look up “Christmas” on the ‘Pub’s YouTube channel and soak in all the seasonal sardonic satire. Hell, the next one revolves around a kid who gets traumatized for life after his father is killed. Good times.

As I said above, I don’t hate Christmas. What I hate is the idea that one is required to put on a specific emotion for the benefit everyone else. That’s outright fascist when you think about it. But that doesn’t mean that more traditional productions are inherently bad. I happen to like the clichéd morality tale of A Christmas Carol, love the music of The Nutcracker, and hold a reverence for The Black Nativity. I certainly won’t fault anyone for love these or any other holiday work, just don’t force me to do so. That’s all I ask.

So as we mix our egg nog with enough high-grade liquor that the punch bowl might just catch fire, let’s raise a glass to the storytellers who love to set traps for Santa ever year. There are plenty of Christmas Storys and Miracle on 34th Streets to keep the masses happy; give me the gore of Gremlins from a boozy Bad Santa if you want me to call this the happiest time of the year.

Charles Lewis III thinks you should all come see Theater Pub’s next Xmas musical, Guess Who on Monday – Dec. 14 at PianoFight. And not just because Charles himself is singing in it, but he does get to sing one of the most recognizable lyrics in music history.