Jeff Garrett and Will Franken overcome holiday saccharine.
Is that a collective sigh of relief in the air as another frenzied holiday season winds down to its usual end and whatever apocalypse was scheduled to go down seems to have spared at least our physical reality?
As we drift back into the routines of our regularly scheduled lives, the brief illumination of whatever lessons we were meant to be learning on the eve of our potential destruction and the supposed birthday of our salvation, flickers out without so much as a whimper. It’s a bit of a stretch anyhow, to weight a single stretch of calendar with so much cosmic significance, yet we do it year after year, grasping superstitiously at the shimmering notion of redemption, the hidden catalyst underlying our frantic excess.
It’s no wonder that the literature of the season is so full of characters in need of said redemption. The curmudgeons of Christmas have populated the landscape since long before jolly old St. Nick appeared on the scene, all the way back to the mean-spirited innkeeper of biblical infamy, who forced history’s holiest matriarch to give birth to her saintly son in a stable. Next to his casual crime, our own feckless peccadilloes seem so tame in comparison. And almost no act of pernicious revenge we could practically carry out quite stacks up to the hilarious inventiveness of the Grinch’s Christmas-in-reverse plot, and the wisdom we can glean from such a tale is twofold. Firstly, that if redemption is possible for such miserable wretches, then it’s certainly within our own grasp, and secondly, we have a collective need for these bad boys of winter to balance out the more saccharine elements of the holidays and keep them palatable, even plausible.
Thus spending an evening with a misanthrope so iconic his moniker is also a descriptor, is as seasonally-appropriate as trimming a tree or eating Chinese food. That misanthrope, of course, is one Ebenezer Scrooge, and in Jeff Garrett’s solo rendition at Boxcar Studio (“Scrooge, the Haunting of Ebenezer”), he undergoes the preordained transformation with a fearsome intensity that spills over the modestly appointed black box stage that struggles to contain him and the multitudes (more than twenty characters worth) he portrays. Judiciously edited down into a lean hour, stripped of the sumptuous Victorian accoutrements of big budget/big cast renditions, Garrett’s version, directed by Peter Ruocco, clearly revels in its dark origin—that of a ghost story, predating the trend of scary movies at Christmastime by almost a hundred and fifty years. True, the compressed timeline makes the eventual reformation of the reprobate seem a little hasty, but not to the extent that one would begrudge him his exultant transformation.
A more modern Christmastide tradition for San Francisco’s orphans and miscreants, is Will Franken’s annual holiday foray, an evening which rarely has much to do overtly with the actual holidays, but much to do with the need to distract ourselves from their inevitability. At Saturday’s edition, Franken’s signature stream-of-(sub)consciousness vignettes featured a bevy of characters in patently absurdist situations: a 39 year-old man without health insurance attempting to rediscover penicillin in time to cure his own strep throat, an Irish construction crew foreman left shorthanded by a few actors (Liam Neeson, Colin Ferrell), authors (Oscar Wilde, James Joyce), and Bono, a murder trial defendant confessing to murder in order to be allowed to smoke a cigarette, an obnoxious professional eavedropper with a broad Scottish accent plying his trade on the train, a talkative Southerner cursed with the rare condition of “jelly feet”. Scant attention was paid by Franken, or his many manic onstage personalities, to the pending festivities (despite being flanked onstage by a plywood Christmas Tree and hearth), offering a welcome respite from the otherwise continuous onslaught of holi-mania, and a tradition well worth hanging on to.
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