Theater Review - Jingle most of the way

Dad's Garage roasts the holidays

The Yuletide season is a time of joy, and there's no greater pleasure than mercilessly savaging the holidays. In Dad's Garage Theatre's holiday show For Whom the Bell Jingles, the company not only roasts Christmas over an open fire, but every other holiday except the Fourth of July.

In previous Decembers, Dad's tweaked Christmas variety TV shows with the original "Chick and Boozy Fun-Time Specials." For Jingles, creators Lucky Yates and Scott Warren shift their satirical sights to the old Rankin-Bass animated shows. Jingles parallels 1971's Here Comes Peter Cottontail, in which the titular rabbit visits all the holidays of the year, trying to unload a basket of Easter Eggs. Jingles takes a similar journey, only with vomiting and frequent gunplay.

The show begins at the North Pole with a couple of jolly elves singing and making toys, although, as the lyrics indicate, one elf isn't just jolly, but gay. A disgruntled elf called Dingle (voiced by puppeteer Lorna Howley) expresses frustration over the heavy workload and thankless labor. When Dingle threatens to quit, a laughing Santa Claus (played by the rail-thin Jason Hines) gives him permission to visit other holidays and sign up if he finds one he prefers.

Dingle departs riding the Jewish reindeer Schlomo (Warren), a reference to "Saturday Night Live's" old "Hanukkah Harry" sketch. Schlomo's Borscht Belt-style jokes prove typical of Jingles' cheerful willingness to live down to every stereotype it can think of, but like "South Park," the show doesn't play favorites.

Dingle's experience with each holiday turns bad, and often hilariously violent. At New Year's Eve, the elderly embodiment of the year 2003 (voiced by Marc Cram) takes a hostage and won't leave without a fight. On Thanksgiving, Dingle must endure a bizarre version of the pilgrim story told by Jive Turkey (a fowl puppet regular from Dad's weekly children's show Uncle Grampa's Hoo-Dilly Stew).

Jingles cleverly incorporates audience participation. On President's Day, John Kennedy debates Abraham Lincoln over topics provided by the audience. But don't expect nuanced argument: Lincoln ended a discourse on the economy with "Economy — out of North America!" On St. Valentine's Day, Dingle and another would-be cupid pair up a man and woman from the audience, then stare at them impatiently, waiting for them to fall in love.

On the show's opening night, audience and cast alike seemed to enjoy the moments when the performers ad-libbed to cover flubbed lines and technical glitches. But such snafus reflect the theater's occasional tolerance for sloppiness. Flubs in the lighting and shadow puppetry should have been ironed out before the ticket-buyers arrived, and the sound mix made much of the opening song unintelligible. The lyrics may as well have been "Blah blah blah Santa Claus!"

But Chris Brown's puppetry design proves consistently clever, with Dingle and Schlomo each having amusing, skeptical expressions, and other puppets revealing exposed brains or vomit spray as needed. The puppeteers provide suitably distinctive voices, especially Howley's annoyed nasal intonations for Dingle.

Jingles also builds to some gags that are more clever than its silly stereotyping leads you to expect. Dingle predictably quaffs green beer with boozing, fighting, jig-dancing leprechauns for St. Patrick's Day — but when the elf travels to Cinco de Mayo, he goes through nearly the same experience, only in Spanish. At Easter, cheerfully dancing Marshmallow peeps provide a counterpoint to outrageous jokes involving the crucifixion. The show even finds room for a bad-dream fake-out worthy of a horror movie.

And as much as it cheerfully spoofs pop culture, For Whom the Bell Jingles doesn't make every pop reference it could. When Dingle finally learns to appreciate Christmas, he overlooks the chance to sing Sly and the Family Stones' "Thank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin."