(Charles Kruger)

This reviewer is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

“A Merry FORKING! Christmas” by Daniel Heath, produced by PianoFight. Director: Christy Crowley. Original Score: Arlen Hart. Assistant Director: Rachel Ferensowicz. Costume & Set Design: Anne Jones. Light Design & Stage Manager: Clinton Winder. Producers: Rob Ready & Dan Williams.

Charles: Alex Boyd. Adam(Santa): Jed Goldstein. Phoebe: Nicole Hammersla. Man: Ray Hobbs. Woman: Gabrielle Patacsil. Dresden: Shane Rhoades. Monique: Emma Shelton. Charlotte: Lea Shesky.

Two actors step downstage to begin Daniel Heath’s “A Merry FORKING! Christmas” by explaining to the audience how to participate. At certain junctures in the play, they’ll be invited to vote between contrasting actions, causing the plot to “fork”. But this is not improvisational comedy. Each possibility has been fully scripted.

The first fork: would you prefer actor Ray Hobbs to remove his shirt or actress Gabrielle Patacsil to distribute a few free beers? The beers won (surprise!), and I think you can get some sense of how things developed from there.

About fifteen minutes in, I had the thought: “I don’t think I have laughed this much or heard jokes packed this dense since I first saw the movie “AIRPLANE!” That’s high praise. (And, just for the record, I was not under the influence and “high praise” is not a double entendre.)

Mr. Heath is an expert comic craftsman and could easily write for a successful network sitcom. He has the formulas down pat. But he undermines them by forcing us to play with them ourselves at each forking episode. If you really pay attention, your brain, your emotions and your belly laugh muscles all get a workout.

The cast of PianoFight's "A Merry FORKING! Christmas": (l to r) Leah Shesky,Shane Rhoades,Emma Shelton,Alex Boyd,Jed Goldstein,Ray Hobbs,Gabrielle Patacsil and Nicole Hammersla. Photo Credit: Pianofight

The central plot (with nightly variations) involves a pot dealing mall Santa, an overly enthusiastic security cop, a cookie shop with a secret recipe and a mortician with a heart of gold. I’ll leave the various subplots for you to discover when you attend a performance, which you should.

I  won’t risk too many spoilers, but here are a few tidbits on which to sharpen your funny bone:

At one point, the mortician greets a new acquaintance with the remark: “You look familiar. Did you use to have a brother?”

Santa gives directions to a lost shopper: “Hang a right by the incontinent grandma by the fountain.”

A teenage girl chatters to her friend on a cellphone: “And I was, like, do you know Jesus Christ as your personal savior and he was like suck my dick Jesus freak and I was like I couldn’t believe he said that.”

A drunken man on the mall speaker encourages customers with this version of “The Little Drummer Boy”: “Come all you shoppers here/Ba Rumpa Pum Pum/Buy lots more shit this year/Ba Rumpa Pum Pum….”

The expert cast is excellent, as is the original piano accompaniment by composer Arlen  Hart.

Producer Rob Ready makes a charming cameo as what may be the real Santa Claus.

Beneath all the laughs, there is some genuine holiday sentiment and Christmas spirit.

This one’s great fun! And your ticket price includes complimentary hot cider or cocoa.  (And, quite possibly, a free beer.) For further information, click here.


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