Ringwald’s ‘Merry Christmas’ is a hoot, and a drag, and more
FERNDALE, Mich.–It may very well be a Christmas miracle that The Ringwald Theatre put up a new play to a sold-out house on a Monday night. At least that’s what Richard Payton intimated during one of many ad-libbed moments when he suggested opening night’s spectacular display was the result of a mere two weeks’ rehearsal.
However, the well-seasoned cast of four, all beloved Ringwald regulars, know how to roll with the punches, improvise, and play every ridiculous moment for all (maybe sometimes more than) it’s worth.
“Merry Christmas to Everyone! (Except Christina)” is a mash-up of the 1981 film “Mommie Dearest” and “A Christmas Carol” that also riffs on “The Nutcracker,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “It’s Christmas, Charlie Brown,” and “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” A spoof of Golden Hollywood diva Joan Crawford’s notorious drinking, screwing, and abusive parenting, it opens on Christmas Eve, 1949 during a home interview with her four children and closes the following morning.
The narrative that unfolds includes Joan’s visitations by three spirits—not gin, vodka, and whiskey as she hoped, but Studio Head Louis B. Mayer; Carol Ann, the housekeeper; and Bette Davis, Joan Crawford’s nemesis and co-star—whose real talk and tough love miraculously transform her. To a point, of course.
Written by Director Dyan Bailey and Ringwald Artistic Director Joe Bailey (who also plays Joan Crawford), it’s a silly, sassy, bawdy, campy 50-minute romp in which four men play an assortment of characters, the majority of whom are women. In essence, it’s a drag show. Wildly irreverent, audience responsive, and best seen tipsy, like most old-school, underfunded, grass-roots drag shows.
Though ostensibly, the actors are working from a script, a script full of dick, poop, and drinking jokes, and working hard for laughs—laughs that come largely from the Ringwald regulars and insiders for whom this 50-minute $10 ticket is clearly intended as a little holiday gift, a new iteration in a series of original satires of Joan Crawford the theater has produced.
And there’s much to be admired here. Though many of the performances were rough opening night, they were joyously committed. Joe Bailey is a charming sight gag as Joan Crawford—in a black gown and heels with pearls and a fur wrap as well as full Crawfordesque clown makeup—and he channels her narcissistic cruelty through caricature. Bailey’s husband Brandy Joe Plambeck plays daughter Christina, who’s 10 “and she already knows where to find the boys and the booze” with great hilarity; and Kevin Kaminski delightfully underplays son Christopher, teased at 7 for potentially being gay, as well as a lascivious studio security guard who’s hung like a . . . well, you’ll just have to see for yourself.
Richard Payton’s imitations of Mayer and Davis are fun and over-the-top, and his ad libs and breaking character seem to just fuel the fun as well as keep the other actors on their toes—and much of the audience in stitches.
The scarcely-decorated set is fodder for several of Payton’s off-the-cuff remarks; however, the proliferation of tinsel wire hangers more than make up for the lack of fancy or high-tech design elements. And Dyan Bailey’s short videos and projections, Christopher Kamm’s set, and Brandy Joe Plambeck’s lighting effectively do what they need to do.
Whether it’s a Christmas miracle or not, “Merry Christmas to Everyone! (Except Christina)” is undoubtedly a gift that will keep on giving—and changing—from night to night for those who put it on and those who love them.