NUNN'S THEATER HABIT
Christmas Dearest camps out at Ebenezer Lutheran Church Auditorium
Sun. December 5, 2021 12:00 AM
by Jerry Nunn
Hell in a Handbag Productions dusts off a previous holiday hit with Christmas Dearest this season running now through December 31 at Ebenezer Lutheran Church Auditorium, 1650 W. Foster Ave.
Even Ebenezer Scrooge wouldn't be able to compete against the iconic Joan Crawford as she takes his classic A Christmas Carol to a new, insane level. Artistic director David Cerda wrote the script and song lyrics (along with Scott Lamberty) years ago with some new additions to the show in general for 2021. Just like Joan would do, Cerda gives himself some of the best one-liners that the audience will simply devour like a "rare" steak!
The story is set in 1953 as Miss Crawford is attempting to rejuvenate her career playing the Virgin Mary in a new film titled Oh, Mary! Bad behavior and diva demands ensue before the soul searching happens for dear ol' Joan later in the storyline. Cerda serves up her first breastplate after Thanksgiving while embracing the gift that just keeps on giving as the highly quotable Crawford.
Ed Jones has played Crawford's assistant Carol Ann in the past and is a treat to watch as he's grown comfortable with this Bob Cratchit-type of role. The choreography is improved as opposed to past productions of this piece and the church space may seem odd for such an irreverent project, but gives the cast and audience room to breathe, even when wearing a mask. Mary's Attic would not have worked with the social distancing that lingers around today.
Several of the other performers struggle a bit in the first half, but this was remedied in the second act thanks to strong performances including Caitlin Jackson's Bette Davis. The earlier incarnations of Joan Crawford don't show us the mean girl she will one day become and need some rewrites to create the highs and lows of this complex character as she continues to evolve. Tyler Anthony Smith serves flexibility and realness as the gritty Olive LaLake and Mark Barty shines as Christina, although misses a few opportunities to make her even more obnoxious. Teeny Teena played by the high-spirited Nicky Mendelsohn needs to skip the weirdness aspect and just rely on the struggles associated with the character to keep pulling at the audience's heartstrings.
Cerda and Jackson's duet in the show was a showstopper and will stir up nostalgia for those female buddy songs of the past. Christmas Dearest travels back in time not only with puppetry but with content.
For those that crave camp, there are not many Chicago opportunities to see it in a live theater setting and Handbag continues to make a living off of it. Check out their website to see how you can support them for an upcoming fundraiser at HandBagProductions.org and book tickets at ChristmasDearest.EventBright.com before Joan Crawford exits the building.
As Joan once said, "I never go outside unless I look like Joan Crawford the movie star. If you want to see the girl next door, go next door!"