Barney the Elf spreads campy Christmas cheer | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Barney the Elf spreads campy Christmas cheer 

It's one of the most polished Pride Films and Plays productions yet.

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click to enlarge barney_the_elf-1.jpg

Carin Silkaitis

Gay camp and heartwarming sincerity typically go together like oil and water, so I was delightfully surprised and touched by this fun little one-act holiday emulsion by Bryan Renaud and Emily Schmidt. In a queer twist on the 2003 Christmas family comedy Elf, Barney (Roy Samra), a lipstick-wearing, golden-voiced bundle of unconditional love, is exiled from the North Pole workshop to the streets of Chicago by Santa Jr. (Jaron Bellar), a tyrannical, Trump-like autocrat.

Between parodies of show tunes and Gloria Gaynor songs, Barney finds a job at a gay bar, where he meets and falls in love with Zooey (alternating Danika Bone't and Dixie Lynn Cartwright, aka Drew Nixon, who performed on opening night), a sardonic drag queen who takes pity on her fellow outsider. It's . . . one of the sweetest onstage relationships I've seen all year? Cartwright's onstage persona is wryly cynical, much like the character of Zooey, so scenes in which Zooey earnestly teaches her scared, naive new elf friend about the importance of self-love are genuinely moving. I wouldn't have expected to have tears in my eyes in a show with one-liners about bleached assholes, but here we are.

Director Michael D. Graham's production is easily one of the most polished stagings I've seen at Pride Films and Plays, and even if a lot of the jokes land in that awkward middle ground between theater intended for young audiences and theater not at all for young audiences, there's a lot to warm up to.   v

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