Roasting Chestnuts: Gina Bell Rock/The Swordsmen's Holiday Spectacular! | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Roasting Chestnuts: Gina Bell Rock/The Swordsmen's Holiday Spectacular! 

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Roasting Chestnuts: Gina Bell Rock, Noble Fool Theater Company, and The Swordsmen's Holiday Spectacular!, Noble Fool Theater Company, at Pheasant Run Resort & Spa. In the tradition of the peppy holiday TV special, state fair headliner Gina Oswald (Patricia Musker) belts out Christmas classics old and new backed by a glittering, crooning ensemble. However, as the audience learns from a videotaped Behind the Music-type expose, the star is actually a bundle of raw nerves, torn between the influences of her smarmy producer-fiance (Darren Stephens) and her spiritual guru-hairdresser (Bill Surber) while fighting off her show-stealing evil twin (also played by Musker).

Ultimately the sisters' catfight comes center stage while the dueling Svengalis fade into the background. Unfortunate, because a three-way mind game is a much richer breeding ground for humor than a marathon of quick costume changes and breathless entrances as Musker moves between her characters. Surber manages to reclaim some of the limelight, however, with solo moments, including a reading of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" peppered with ad-libs and interpretive dance. Also, thanks to Bonnie Shadrake's meticulous musical direction, Mark Goldweber's lockstep choreography, and the maniacally cheerful Zeitgeist singers, the parody details are perfect.

The Swordsmen (Douglas R. Mumaw and David B. Woolley) also deliver some holiday mayhem in their skewering of Shakespearean era machismo, wardrobe, and hyperenunciation ("honored" with three syllables). Audience members should come prepared to participate: this two-hour performance features blatant applause cues, "repeat after me" repartee, and parades of volunteers brought onstage for lessons in courtly manners and other light humiliations. The production is based on a single joke, but it's expertly told by the two men, who clearly understand the period subject matter well enough to know how and when to deviate from it--as well they should, having played these characters since 1988. In choreography as sharply tuned as their wit, Mumaw and Woolley lunge and spar with the verve and finesse of hopped-up ballet masters. Reverent? No. Traditional? Hardly. Spectacular? Well, that's a stretch, but it's definitely fun--for kids and (brave) adults alike.


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