Theatre review: Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s The Plot to Overthrow Christmas

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Theatre review: Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s The Plot to Overthrow Christmas

Jennipher Lewis as Mephisto in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s The Plot to Overthrow Christmas

Jennipher Lewis as Mephisto in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s The Plot to Overthrow Christmas

Photo by Chris Garcia

Jennipher Lewis as Mephisto in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s The Plot to Overthrow Christmas

Photo by Chris Garcia

Photo by Chris Garcia

Jennipher Lewis as Mephisto in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s The Plot to Overthrow Christmas

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If you’ve never seen a realistic reindeer, now’s your chance. One of Santa Claus’s sleigh-pullers makes a fabulous appearance in the Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s (LBSC) The Plot to Overthrow Christmas. This hour-long rhyming holiday tribute is engaging for children and adults alike, with a variety of songs, two poems, a saxophone solo and a nefarious plot to end Christmas once and for all.

Though the story begins in Hell– probably the furthest point possible from the North Pole– it’s a place made more funny than scary by over-the-top performances of its worst-of-the-worst residents, including the Roman Emperor Nero (Leonardo Lerma), Ivan the Terrible (Cole B. Norcio) and the devil Mephisto (Jennipher Lewis). This sordid gang soon hatches a plot to take down Santa and rid the world of good cheer.

Nero is sent to do the deed with the aid of an ingenious “Surface Helevator.” As with most travel tales, however, the journey is as much fun as the destination. Nero’s elevator stops at various locations en route to the North Pole– Italy, England, the Yukon and even California– and at each place we are gifted with a memorable story, poem or song inflecting on Christmas in some way.

The players delight as their evil characters but especially in their individual performances at each location. Rachel Speth, who plays the suspected assassin Lucretia Borgia, tells of an Italian witch who also gives gifts and she later performs on sax. Norcio movingly recites A.A. Milne’s poem, “King John’s Christmas” about poor little John’s holiday wish, while Ian Stewart Riley masterfully narrates “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service, set in Alaska during the gold rush. Riley’s voice also shines when he, Norcio and Rishab, as slave-owner Simon Legree on guitar, sing The Kinks’s “Father Christmas.”

Lerma excels as the clownishly arrogant but coachable Nero, including an enlightening encounter with Santa Claus (a well-cast Andy Kallok). And Lewis rounds out the cast as the highly engaging narrator and absolutely riotous devil in Hell, clad in a red dress and sparkly tail. Though we don’t see her, Jo McLachlan lends her voice as Sotto Voce, who periodically interjects to define terms.

Set designer Tim Leach uses video projection to evoke both the flames of Hell and the frosty north. He is also the creator of that marvelous reindeer, previously used on the set of the film The Santa Clause, controlled by two operators through cords and levers backstage. Such effects are somehow more magical at this time of year, when disbelief is suspended and hearts and minds opened.

Director Brando Cutts notes that The Plot to Overthrow Christmas is dedicated to the late Helen Borgers, after whom LBSC’s theatre is named. The tightly rhyming play was written by her father’s close friend, Norman Corwin, and the two poems recited so well were among her favorites. Yet another reason to start the holiday season with this charmingly twisted, spirited play.

The Plot to Overthrow Christmas continues at the Helen Borgers Theatre, 4250 Atlantic Ave., through Dec. 15, with shows Fridays (except Dec. 6) and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Ticket prices are $12.50 and $22.50. For tickets and information, call (562) 997-1494 or visit LBShakespeare.org.