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RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER, Annoyance Theatre, and RUDOLPH THE RED-HOSED REINDEER, Sweetback Productions, at the American Theater Company. Every year for the past ten years the Annoyance folks have taken a TV holiday classic (A Charlie Brown Christmas, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, Frosty the Snowman) and adapted it for the stage, re-creating with amusing accuracy the look and feel of the original shows, right down to the jerky way the cheaply animated puppets move in the Rankin/Bass specials.
This year Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer gets its turn. And once again director Tony Stavish has turned out a sweet, mildly satirical show. He and his cast of 18 gently poke fun at the flaws and oddities of the original special: the odd, twisty plot; the outrageous characters; the sudden eruptions of 60s-style cartoon sexism (all the female reindeer have incredibly huge eyelashes). And Mark Timms is quite winning as Rudolph.
But this year’s Annoyance effort pales beside Sweetback Productions’ much more ambitious send-up of the very same animated show. Instead of merely putting the TV special onstage verbatim, writer-director David Cerda and company actually deconstruct the story. In their version Rudolph’s fatal flaw is not his nose but his hose: he’s a cross-dresser. It’s a cheap joke, but it allows Cerda to completely, and hilariously, reinterpret Rudolph’s story as a battle to dress the way he wants in a world with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
Cerda also twists the story in other wonderful ways. Mrs. Claus–played with killing intensity by Steve Hickson–screeches, drinks, and pops pills like some character in a Jacqueline Susann novel. Santa’s elves are a bunch of bitchy, pumped-up gym queens. And Santa himself is very much the kind of piggy, abusive patriarch who’d drive his wife to drink. In fact Cerda’s parody so transforms the story that for all practical purposes it’s a different work with amusing echoes of the original. That’s how a copycat crime turns into a work of art.