An advantage of staging precisely one annual performance of your holiday spectacular is that you can afford to distribute free cookies to each audience member. It was an audience thusly sated with sugar—and rollicked by the rambunctious Brass Messengers—that settled in to enjoy the Open Eye Figure Theatre’s holiday pageant at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis this past Monday night.
The company acknowledges Middle English miracle plays as the inspirations for its Christmas production, and indeed the pageant harks back to a time before there was a strict distinction between entertainment for children and entertainment for adults. The Open Eye troupe plays to the peanut gallery with physical comedy and bathroom humor (one flatulent shepherd repurposes a classic carol as an ode to “me and my bum”), but those elements of broad comedy are mixed with subtle wordplay, riffs on obscure Biblical references, and some randy sexual innuendo that—judging by the giggling throughout the audience—was not entirely lost on the SpongeBob set.
The Holiday Pageant, a production written, directed, and designed by Michael Sommers, presented annually by Open Eye Figure Theatre. The next Open Eye production will be Eleanor’s Cabinet, opening February 8, 2008. For information, call (612) 874-6338 or see openeyetheatre.org.
The plot, such as it is, follows the traditional Christmas-pageant narrative running from the Annunciation (Amy Matthews’s Virgin Mary seems almost disappointed to learn that her impregnation will be effected without the opportunity for her to gain any carnal knowledge) to the Christ Child’s birth. A subplot involves the desire of Lucifer (Michael Sommers) for an innocent lamb, which his hench-demon Teufel (Sarah Agnew) undertakes to steal from a trio of bumbling shepherds (Kevin Kling, Luverne Seifert, and Noah Sommers Haas); another subplot follows the angels Gabriel (Greg Lewis, communicating exclusively through a trumpet) and Matin (Agnew again) as they try to shine a divine light through the dim bulbs of Mary and her husband Joseph (Kling again, uneasy about having been cuckolded by the Holy Spirit).
Open Eye’s theatrical signature is the integration of puppetry with actors’ performances, and the pageant features myriad puppets ranging from sheep to angels to miniature replicas of the actors—Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, for example, is portrayed by puppets being pulled across the stage on a string. (Unsurprisingly, the company does not miss the opportunity for a naughty pun about Mary sitting on her ass.) For those who like their holiday theater staged with vigor and panache—and who can appreciate a generous dose of bawdy irreverence—Open Eye’s annual pageant is, so to speak, a godsend.
Jay Gabler (email@example.com) writes on the arts. He is assistant editor of the TC Daily Planet.