Grenadine McGunkle's Double-Wide Christmas Miracle! is a miracle unto itself -- merely by existing. That Running With Scissors co-founder Richard Read could simply mount the production -- in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and missing his partner in crime and several other key performers -- made the first performance open to the public feel like a virgin birth unto itself. For, in the place of co-founder Flynn De Marco and co-star Brian Peterson along with sometime guest performers Bob Edes, Debbie Davis and Bianca Del Rio (to name a few), there were a lot of unsharpened Scissors onstage.
But here's the trick with Running With Scissors in general and Richard Read in particular: While Read has more than happily worked behind the scenes and allowed the aforementioned performers to hog the spotlight, the troupe would be nowhere without him. And if Read proved anything -- with a ton of newcomers and a revamped script -- it's that the man knows how to put on a show.
Make no mistake about it, this isn't your grandmother's Grenadine. Far from it, and not always in a good way. The opening performance suffered from botched lines, often uncomfortable pacing and some awkward chemistry issues that maybe went a bit beyond opening-night jitters. (Don't forget they should have gotten that out of the way the night before with their traditional private-party performance sponsored by the Krewe of Satyricon.)
So why, then, was my companion -- who'd only seen one other RWS production and was a first-timer to the goings-on at the Everlasting Arms Motor Park -- laughing her ass off? Because Read scored almost pitch-perfect casting and benefited from an audacious script polish courtesy of Grenadine herself, Dorian Rush. Rush has long been the female comedic backbone of this troupe. And, who knew a Jersey girl would be so well versed in the ways of the tacky and big-haired?
Rush is the one who turned this version into a prequel, taking us back to Grenadine's formative Cinderella years being tortured by her aunt-turned-stepmother, Piney (Adam Hawkins) and her two stepsister-cousins (or "cousisters"), China (Lisa Picone) and Crystal (Ashley Ricord). Also wandering in her orbit is the "confirmed bachelor" Punkin (Brad Caldwell), the questionably hetero Rod (Rod Lemaire), the very injured Earl (Bill Dykes), the goodhearted Sheriff (Jim Jeske) and the Casio-plunking Madge (Elizabeth Pearce).
Helping ease Grenadine's pain is the Hanukah Fairy (Rebecca Frank), who possesses a Pavlovian response to the word "Jew," one of a few great running gags throughout the show.
The beauty of this year's Grenadine is how Rush and Read have re-imagined everything, from the structure of the story to replacing so much talent in such a short period of time. Performers such as Hawkins, Picone, Ricord and Frank might be strangers to the Scissors, but they're no strangers to New Orleans theater. Their timing might have been off more than it should --ÊHawkins in particular could use some extra rehearsal time -- and they haven't quite grasped the nuances of camp or hamming. Comedy may be difficult, but camp is deceptively challenging. Too often the Scissors crew has been lauded for how much fun they have onstage; what is too often forgotten is how hard they work to make it look so easy.
But make no mistake about it; this remains a talented group, and it will be interesting to see how much improved this production becomes once these performers develop the kind chemistry that made RWS so much fun to watch. Frank is perhaps the best example of this, because her role affords her perhaps the most opportunities to ham it up, with her gum smacking, wand waving and "Coffee Talk with Linda Richman" accent. When she leaps onstage at the slightest hint of the J-word, the audience responds almost instantly.
It's also to Rush's credit that she didn't exploit this opportunity to make Grenadine an even larger presence than before, so happy is she to remain one cog in a promising ensemble. This also allows the other RWS alumni and guest performers -- Jeske, Pearce, Lemaire, Dykes, Caldwell --Êto show that while De Marco and Peterson had become featured performers, the others provide a formidable comic presence as well. Pearce -- who hit her stride in this summer's Nancy Drew & the Hardy Boys in "The Wax Museum Mystery" -- earned her amplified role in this production, serving not just as an accompanist but also the show's one-woman Greek chorus who calls "bullshit" wherever she finds it. Then there's Caldwell, as flaming as flaming can get, wrapped in a kimono and promising to make such flaming holiday drinks as the "Three Magi Mai Tai" or a "Frankincense and Myrrh-tini"! And who would've thought Dykes, bandaged all up tight thanks to his John Deere accident, could sound so funny saying so little -- in that Kenny-from-South Park kind of way?
The musical numbers also received a makeover, but not so you can't sing along to the revamped lyrics. So Grenadine McGunkle's Double-Wide Christmas Miracle! lives up to its name: different, surely, but reassuring as well that, with the kind of improvisation that has helped get this city through three grueling months, we can pull off just about anything.
- Oy, such a home! The very-Jewish Christmas Fairy (Rebecca Frank) kibitzes with a young, Cinderella-like Grenadine (Dorian Rush), hoping to fulfill her wish for a husband and a trailer in Grenadine McGunkle's Double-Wide Christmas Miracle!