by SOPHIE KERMAN and EMILY MEISLER, guest reviewer
Who hasn’t watched “Waiting for Guffman”, the mockumentary about a small town that puts on a community theater production, and felt a twinge of envy for the fictitious audience of “Red, White, and Blaine”? How much fun would it be to see that play, a production so ridiculous it is beyond criticism, with the fresh and un-ironic eyes of a new theatergoer? We might have found that answer at Miracle on Christmas Lake II at the Yellow Tree Theatre in Osseo.
Before entering the show, we pondered the possibilities of what a Christmas show might have in store for us. Both of us had seen only a handful of holiday-themed productions. We predicted a boy in a manger, wise men, a miracle, or a rebirth. A hero’s story. Perhaps a moralistic comedy. Definitely some singing.
What we saw was “Waiting for Guffman” without the irony. The story of a rural Minnesota town under threat of annexation by a chemical plant, the Christmas Lake community hopes to save itself by staging a wildly successful Christmas play. Christmas Lake II – yes, there was an original so successful it prompted a sequel – pokes fun at its suburban Midwestern audience while simultaneously celebrating their hokey traditions and guileless family values.
The brilliance of this show lies in just how well it plays to its audience. As a pair of NY Jewish transplants to the Midwest, we missed some of the jokes, particularly the ones about Lutherans – but from the belly laughs coming from the rest of the crowd, we could tell that playwright Jessica Lind Peterson knows her target audience. A parade of stereotypes, from the painfully awkward bumpkins (Debra Berger and Ryan Nelson) making their way towards engagement to the New Yorker (Rachel Petrie) unable to appreciate the joys of small-town life (while simultaneously saying bah-gel like a Minnesotan–shame!), Peterson’s characters charmed the pants off her audience, many of whom had to wipe away tears of laughter.
While we weren’t quite so enraptured, the production certainly could have been worse – and for two Grinches like us, mediocrity itself is an accomplishment in the field of holiday humor. We especially appreciated the emphasis on the value of community at the expense of religious sanctimony. At times, we couldn’t discern whether or not all the actors existed in the same world; as the protagonist couple attempting to save Christmas Lake from annexation, Rachel Petrie and Josef Buchel’s wooden performances lacked the theatricality necessary for our emotional engagement, while Debra Berger’s performance played like Bridesmaids’ Melissa McCarthy on amphetamines. But in the end, the play, with its ray gun Baby Jesus, divine flatulence, and goat-gags, succeeds as a fun and inoffensive holiday diversion. A small Christmas miracle according to these Jews.
Miracle on Christmas Lake II by Jessica Lind, presented by the Yellow Tree Theatre, 320 Fifth Avenue S.E., Osseo, MN 55369. November 23-December 30, 2012. Tickets $17-23 at 763-493-8733 or online at www.yellowtreetheatre.com.