There comes a point each year when every theater troupe has to consider its December offering. More often than not the selected play is an old chestnut — your Christmas Carols and Best Christmas Pageant Evers. And there’s good reason for that. Think of the pre-Santa season as the “sweet weeks,” those five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s when the itch for holiday entertainment reaches its zenith. A popular holiday play can balance the books, especially for a company that may have run a lesser known or riskier show earlier in the season. But the truth is yuletide show fatigue is real and not just for audiences but for actors too. Which leaves many companies in a quandary. As American Theatre Magazine puts it, “The question for many companies is not whether to do a holiday show but whether to take a chance on a new one.”
For PURE Theatre that’s meant looking beyond the manger for December-worthy productions. Two years ago they debuted Rodney Lee Rogers’ Waffle House Christmas. This year PURE is debuting five original works — PURE Holiday Shorts — “the tiniest world premieres you’ve ever seen.”
“I wrote one last year. It was a little more dramatic. A sweet and wonderful piece and personal for me,” says one of PURE’s Holiday Shorts writers RW Smith. “This year I was like, I’m gonna go comedic.”
Smith says he found humor in co-opting Dickens. For his short, Marley and Me, Smith has written a tale about a post-haunted Ebenezer Scrooge who we find living with his old business partner/ghost, Marley.
“I had this idea that popped into my head. It’s 10 years later, and Marley and Ebenezer have become like the Odd Couple,” says Smith. “Marley has not only not gotten rid of the chains, he’s put more on having a good time in purgatory.”
In Smith’s A Christmas Carol sequel, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, have been hanging out and partying together and somehow have become Scrooge’s surrogate family.
“Ebenezer is still the good person, but what I wanted to tackle was while he has become a good person, he wasted his life and is alone,” explains Smith. That said, Marley and Me isn’t a downer. Smith promises it’s all very light and, more importantly, as the showcase title promises, short.
“None of the shows go over 20 minutes. Mine is right around 15,” he says.
Perhaps that’s why Mat Smart, author of Because Santa is Real, is cagey in revealing his plot. It’s hard to avoid a spoiler when your show is less than half an hour long. Smart only says this: “My play is quite autobiographical. In it, I share the Christmas morning tradition that my sister and I have had our whole lives. The play asks the question, Is escaping to a ritual of our childhood a healthy thing? Or might it help prevent us from growing up?”
Smart adds that at 15 minutes in length, he hopes to have audiences laughing and even shedding a tear or two.
We suspect he’ll succeed. Smart’s work comes highly recommended. The playwright just won Chicago Theatre’s Jeff Award for Best New Work for his play The Royal Society of Antarctica. His Because Santa is Real will share the stage with the work of two other award-winning playwrights. Holiday Shorts final play, All I Want for Christmas was written by Desiree Burch, a playwright and comedian living in London who just won a Fringe First Award at Edinburgh this past summer for her solo piece, Tar Baby.
Then there’s Thomas Ward. The Texas playwright’s work, International Falls, won Best of the Fest at the Out of the Loop Festival in Austin. For his Holiday Short, he’s stolen Tarantino’s line and written I Love You Honey Bunny in which a middle-aged married couple jump a train after a horrible New Year’s Eve party. His plot has a bit of a pulp fiction twist as well. “I’m really interested in couples finding love through crime,” he says.
“Instead of the romantic comedy, like When Harry Met Sally when they run to each other at the end. This married couple says let’s run away from everybody and everything in their life. They hit the road like tramps,” Ward explains. Of course, the real question is what, or better yet, who are they really running from?
Ward got included in the shorts thanks to his friendship with another playwright, David Lee Nelson, who is directing all of the shows. The two went to grad school together, and Ward says that even though he won’t be able to visit Charleston to see his show, he has complete faith in Nelson’s direction. “This is the first time I’ve really written something and just hit send on the email,” says Ward. “We did talk about rehearsals, but other than that, I haven’t even given it a second thought of any concern.” (Nelson is a City Paper contributor, by the way.)
For his part, Nelson’s biggest challenge with directing five plays from five different playwrights has been making sure each show is something he’d like to see. “If I’m excited about it, hopefully other people watching it will be too,” he says.
But if not, like we said, this is a BOGO show deal. You have five chances to like something and if not PURE has other diversions planned — ahem, Santa in a leisure suit on site.
“There will be selfies with Santa before the show,” says Nelson. Santa will also read letters he’s received over the course of the year. And Nelson says, “there may or may not be a Santa “confessions” section, proving that Santa Clause is the real Most Interesting Man in the World.”
How’s that for a new holiday classic?