Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Happy No Year! (review)

Spoilers Ahoy!

The world premiere of Jon Christie's Happy No Year marks my introduction to this playwright, his company, the cast and also the Missing Piece Theatre in Burbank.

Having been invited to the show by someone I know on Facebook, I honestly had zero notion what the play's subject matter might be. The only clue seemed its title, which pretty clearly hinted at comedy. Correctly, as it turned out.

A comedy, a fantasy, a love story and as it turns out a murder mystery. In fact watching this show brought all kinds of others to mind unbidden. One of these was Nightmare Before Christmas, Tim Burton's film--mostly because of the play's central conceit.  Each character is a human being somehow put in charge and responsible for a particular holiday. Pat (Ben Austen) for example embodies St. Patrick's Day. Hally (Cherami Leigh) is in charge of Halloween. Not too surprisingly, the former speaks with a brogue while getting drunk all the time, the latter on the other hand is always changing costumes. They join several of their fellows at the end of the year for the gala celebration given by Eve (Grace Birkita MacMillan) and her brother Dave (Felipe Figueroa), New Year's Eve and Day respectively.  Some of the holidays aren't present. Esther (Easter) ate too many chocolate bunnies and isn't feeling well. Indy (Fourth of July) is taking a vacation. And so on. Guests do include Puck (JR Ritcherson) in charge of April Fool's Day and a surprisingly lonely Val (David Lewis) who is Valentine's Day. But the "big" guest remains the bitchy diva Chris (Rachel Boller) i.e. Christmas, with her virtual servant Autumn (Tammy Olson), Thanksgiving. Not too surprisingly, the guests have their own issues with one another, from friendship to rivalry and the like. Eve and Chris loathe one another, but plenty of other emotions bubble to the surface.

Then the lights go out. A shot is fired. Someone has been shot! Or have they?

What follows is a fun enough murder mystery that doesn't take itself too seriously, with echoes of the motion picture CLUE as well as the musical Drood. All well and good. The entire cast is charming, the humor earns smiles at least and sometimes outright laughs. It clearly is intended as light fare, completely appropriate for the young and young at heart. But while the show achieves the goal of Fun it lacks the depth of really classic children's stories such as Peter Pan or How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Which may be unfair to say. After all, where is the justice in calling a given drama "not the equal of Hamlet?" On the other hand, had I really believed in this world and in the characters I'd've care more. A lot more. Thus would have enjoyed it far more. The script is nice. Light. Sweet and smile-inducing. Anyone who's ever attended comedies that never became funny will appreciate Happy No Year for its success in amusing. No small thing! But what interested me most were the most human elements, the surprises instead of the cliches. That it had such moments, such elements is frankly worthy of praise! Just wish there were more.

On the other hand, the cast did well and the show itself hits most of the marks it seems to be aiming for. It makes for a light sweet, a touch of whimsey with actually more human truth than one would expect, including some rather more complex relationships than is usual for a lot of successful t.v. shows for example. So I do recommend the show, while hoping the writer/director continues to hone his craft. He's a very young man, with hopefully lots of productions yet to come.

Happy No Year plays until December 20, 2014 at the Missing Piece Theatre 2811 West Magnolia, Burbank CA 91505. Tickets are $20 each.

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