Christmas Revels Come But Once a Year--Thankfully
THE CHRISTMAS REVELS: IN CELEBRATION OF THE WINTER SOLSTICE Directed by Patrick Swanson Sanders Theater Dec. 11-27
You should see what goes on in this place once we vacate it. Well, you shouldn't see it (I already went on that adventure on your behalf); but you should know it at least. Because the next time you go to Sanders for your Ec 10 lecture, you will see the stage in a new light as the annual seance hotspot for the ghost of Christmas past-but-still-obstinately-here-oh-won't-it-please-go-away.
So anyway, as I was saying... We leave this place, bags in tow, Heidegger in our hip-pockets, and who sweeps in to fill our vacuum but all these old people? This year, they did so to an old-style British "Panto," a comical take on the fairy tale "Cinderella"; a traditional "St. George and the Dragon" mummers play; lots of familiar carols and rounds, including the ceremonial "Boar's Head Carol" from Oxford; Susan Cooper's classic solstice poem "The Shortest Day" and a spectacular rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" you'll never forget. And, as always, Revels audiences are kept busy, singing carols with the cast and at the end of Act I, dancing out of the theater, hand-in-hand, into the grand lobby of Memorial Hall for Revels' signature piece, "Lord of the Dance."
Pretty much that whole last paragraph-hyperbole and all-I lifted straight out of the press release, because my mind was so numbed by the actual spectacle that I could not move myself to say anything original. And the press release is the best part of the show slick and pretty and misleadingly promising. This is really because The Revels, a non-profit arts organization complete with mailing list and gift catalogne, founded in Cambridge by musician John Langstaff and his daughter Carol, has turned over 28 years into a serious establishment and tradition for Bostonside Christmas-celebrators.
I suppose it is a treat to some. For example, they did beautiful things to Sanders Theater (that's what happens when you have more than a $ 500 grant from the OFA), so that one entered and felt like one really was by a warm hearth in a land of ale and pudding just before the sordid ugliness of the Industrial Revolution sank in (oh, the theme for this year's Revels was a Dickensian journey through Victorian England). There was holly and gold and props like an affection-starved distant female relative gone too lonely. And enough opulent poofy costumes to cover the sky. On-stage and off. It was all very-rich.
Then they jam-packed the stage with British folk singer/tradition bearer David Jones, actors Patrick English, Sarah deLima and Richard Snee, the 40-member Revels Chorus, a merry company of Music Hall "artistes," the Pudding Lane Waits, the Dingley Dell Dancers, a parlor orchestra, the Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble, The Pinewoods Morris Meri and the Rose Galliard Northwest Morris, the Pearly King and Queen, and a fake ferret. Do you know what that means? Again, the press release speaks through me. Basically there are a lot of people on stage, no one is particularly charming or memorable, they do ridiculous things for adults under uninspired direction and the audience laps it up. They sing competently, okay, even well, but they dance tepidly. And the premise of the show, the reason for this massive bouffanted brouhaha, is, like, let's have a nineteenth century variety show, because it's that time of the year which lends itself so perfectly to all things excessive and unnecessary.
I don't mean to ruin anybody's Christmas, but it really was so boring. I kept asking myself, why would anybody young come to this thing? Why would anybody with a television set? Or even a pulse? Because people do come. Since its inception in 1971, 500,00 people nationwide have joined in the song and dance of the Revels. I believe they keep coming back All sixteen shows were sold out a long time before the show opened, and everyone there was having a great time. My section was particularly hardcore when it came to audience caroling-there was big-time vibrato and harmonizing going on. And then, like the second paragraph promised, they all got up to dance at the end of the first act. I just barely moved my legs out of the way for my neighbors to pass, I was so nearly comatose. But I heard and saw them and everyone was giddy with joy. The most I can make of it is as a glamorized, Noelized karaoke session. Or as an excuse for old people to act like little children, the sort who sulk and laugh at farty noises. I could imagine too that it would be an endearing sort of family tradition to go to The Christmas Revels every year, although I would leave that family at an early age.
There is an educational component to the show it wants to trace the evolution of modern Christmas festivities from the reign of Queen Victoria Before, Revels has looked at the winter solstice in Meso-America, Brittany, and among the gypsy people. Still, I don't understand. Am I missing something? Why am I not impressed by a boy who skips from one side to the other of a broomstick laid on the stage (stepping on it at one point, I might add), in the aptly named "Broom Dance." There was an a cappella duet of a chilling minor tone that caught my imagination, and then it was back to the men with sashes who hop with bells on their feet.
Some people got their holiday partying done that night I got some rest, and worked out my grocery list on the back of the program. I went on to have a good Christmas, and I hope you did too. Just don't let anyone misuse your time, no matter what season it is.