THE MADONNA IN SPITE OF HERSELF (A COMMON NATIVITY STORY), Corn Productions, at the SweetCorn Playhouse, and RUDOLPH THE RED-HOSED REINDEER, Sweetback Productions, at the SweetCorn Playhouse. Not for the fundamentalist-at-heart, these campy productions–combining adulation and irreverence in equal measure–will certainly insult anyone who believes that children’s stories and religious tracts should be worshiped without a trace of irony.
Corn Productions, best known for The Tiff and Mom Show, has retold one of the greatest of stories. Their version of the Immaculate Conception, called The Madonna in Spite of Herself, takes place in Berwyn, Illinois; the Madonna is a tough-talking working-class girl visited by the Angel Gay-briel and guided through her pregnancy by a confused, very horny Joseph. Michelle Reese Thompson wrote and directed the play, which is faithful in many details to the biblical account though very twisted, adding drag queens, silly musical numbers, and jokes. If you’ve always wondered how the angels do their hair, you’ll love this goofy, sometimes sloppy but belly laugh-producing show, the first in a series that will follow the little Berwyn Jesus through his short but gay-ly eventful life.
On the same warehouse stage, Sweetback Productions lovingly defiles another Christmas tradition. David Certa’s adaptation of the musical TV classic is even more wonderful than Madonna. Certa, who also directs, clearly knows every song and saccharine moment of the original and manages to pay them homage even as he skewers their sentimentality. Rudolph, a drag queen, embarrasses his family and is forced to confront the Abominable Drag Beast, who nearly kills everyone with bad Streisand lip-synching. The cast moves quickly and cleanly through the complicated musical numbers and smartly placed quotations, and a few star turns left me breathless.
Although the show will be more fun for people who know the TV version, even neophytes will find something to enjoy. Critiquing consumerism, Certa milks the Santa/ Satan connection for all it’s worth, ending with a healthy if cynical caution against gay assimilation. It may be a small step for Rudolph, but it’s a daring leap for camp theater in Chicago. –Carol Burbank