A swooning Scrooge causes Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas to linger. A widow waits for her late husband to celebrate New Year’s Eve. A Jewish misanthrope debates Krampus. An elderly man deals with his failing cognitive health. A lonely man on a lonely drive listens to the recordings of a loved one. Is this a fever dream? No, it’s the shorts of Holiday Lites currently playing at Benson Theatre under the auspices of Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company.
This show is the spiritual successor to the old Shelterskelter and From Shelterbelt With Love shows. All the shows are originals, but BSB takes it one step farther as all of these shorts are written by local writers (MS Wulfgar, Moira Mangiameli, and Jason Levering). The cornucopia of shorts varies in tone from sweet to funny to introspective to heartbreaking and the quality of the writing ranges from solid to excellent.
MS Wulfgar and Moira Mangiameli handle the directing duties of the vignettes and each does some fine work. Mangiameli’s best effort comes in Y2K where she strikes a positively eerie and isolated tone with a man taking a lonely drive on 12/31/99. The use of lights (or rather lack of) exude the sense of a dark and starless night and adds to the sadness of the tale. Wulfgar shows directing versatility that matches his legendary acting chops as he shines with an introspective take on A Christmas Carol with The Old Haunts, some snarky comedy with God Jule, Shalom and heartrending honesty with Old Sy Lange. Each director guides their actors well and pull convincing and satisfying performances from the performers.
Each member of the ensemble gets a moment to shine. Adam Bassing has a nervous everyman quality as Neighbor in Bang the Bread while Erienne Wredt shows a real penchant for storytelling in the same short. Jason Levering brings a real despondency to Mike in Y2K. But some of the best work takes place in Old Sy Lange and The Old Haunts.
In Old Sy Lange, Jack Zerbe is spot on as the title character who is dealing with the declination of his mind due to Alzheimer’s. His New Jersey accent is flawless and you can feel his sincere belief in his hallucinations and the anger he feels as he loses his independence bit by bit. Moira Mangiameli is the rock as the understanding nurse supporting Sy. Jessica Johnson is utterly believable as the daughter watching her father slowly fade away.
In The Old Haunts, Murphy Scott Wulfgar finds some surprising depth in the role of Jacob Marley. He starts with the cliched ghost routine, but switches to a more introspective look as he realizes he wasn’t remembered or loved enough to be granted a chance at salvation. Then he closes with the same ghost routine, but with a much more nuanced take that may speak more to the truth of Dickens’ vision. Eric Griffith brings a real childlike quality to Ghost of Christmas Present as he technically is a baby as he only exists on Christmas in a perpetual cycle of birth and death. Katt Walsh is wonderful as the Ghost of Christmas Past. She has a little bit of denseness about her as she goes through her speech to an unconscious Scrooge and her inability to request a different card in a version of Go Fish. But her best moment is when she becomes Scrooge’s sister Fan. Walsh exhibits a level of vocal control I’ve rarely seen as she becomes the child on the turn of a dime.
The show had some nice effects with the lights emulating perpetually falling snow and the projections of a snowy park or Victorian England on the screen. Costumes always suited the characters with my favorites being the period correct costumes of The Old Haunts and Griffith’s Krampus outfit with shaggy wig and horns in God Jule, Shalom. A few minor flaws failed to dampen a charming night of holiday shorts.
Holiday Lites runs at Benson Theatre under the auspices of Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company through Dec 18. Showtimes are Thurs-Sun at 7:30pm and matinee performances at 2pm on Sundays. Tickets cost $35 and can be reserved here. Benson Theatre is located at 6054 Maple St in Omaha, NE.