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Review: Furious Theatre Company's 'The Night Before Christmas'

December 4, 2008 | 12:15 am

The_night_before_christmas_1_2As the inevitable onslaught of holiday-themed shows swings into high gear, Pasadena’s Furious Theatre Company offers a notably smart adult-oriented standout with "The Night Before Christmas."

In just under an hour, British playwright Anthony Neilson’s 1995 one-act comedy strikes an engaging balance of edginess, social commentary and hard-won optimism, without lapsing into sappy cliche.
Instead, yuletide formulas are wittily upended when a deadbeat Cockney lout named Gary (Doug Newell) captures an Elf (K.M. Davies) breaking into the toy warehouse where he works. Summoning his equally lowlife chum Simon (Troy Metcalf) to the scene of the crime, the pair debate whether to turn their bound prisoner over to the coppers.

To Simon’s astonishment, Gary is reluctant to dismiss the Elf — who characterizes himself as an employee of an "international gift distribution agency" — as merely an elaborately costumed junkie or lunatic. In fact, he’s starting to believe the captive Elf’s story, and in his warnings of dire consequences unless he’s released soon.

Amid their deliberations arrives Cherry (Nina Silver), a sharp-tongued prostitute looking to collect Gary’s promised payment for services rendered. After some impeccably played character setup, the real fun starts when the Elf, in a last-ditch effort to win his freedom, promises to grant each of them a single wish. Doubts vanish — perhaps more easily than they should — when an initial throwaway wish immediately comes true.

Under Robert Pescovitz’s nicely modulated direction, imagining potential gratifications brings these misfits face-to-face with the central dilemmas in each of their lives. The way each finds their moral compass plays out in an unsentimental, remarkably authentic manner that lends gravitas to Neilson’s yuletide: it’s grown-ups, far more than children, who are most in need of miracles.

-- Philip Brandes

The Night Before Christmas," Pasadena Playhouse Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 20. $20. (800) 595-4849. Running time: 1 hour.

Caption:  Nina Silver, Doug Newell and Troy Metcalf surround K.M. Davies (in elf suit) in Furious Theatre Company's "The Night Before Christmas." Credit: Anthony Masters