Holiday Theater Guide, Hold the Chestnuts

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Nik Duggan, Jacob Marker, Drew Benjamin Jones, Max Sorg, Danraj Rajasansi and Jeremy Ryan as German and English soldiers in Truce: A Christmas Wish from the Great War at City Lights Theater Company. Photo by Richard Mayer Photo.

’Tis the season when nearly every theater in town seems to be producing some kind of holiday crowd-pleaser to finish the year on a high note. Jacob Marley will rattle his chains in countless adaptations of Dickens' A Christmas Carol (traditional takes at American Conservatory Theater, Center Rep and Northside Theatre Company; Scrooge the Musical at Spreckels Theatre Company and a one-man version at the Berkeley City Club). Stage versions of holiday films will offer twists on familiar stories: Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas and two versions of  It’s a Wonderful Life (at San Francisco’s Tides Theatre and Lafayette’s Town Hall Theatre). And  then there are the uniquely San Francisco holiday traditions, like the Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, celebrating 22 years of Jewish stand-up comedy in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas.

But the real gift that every year brings are the  new contenders for yuletide theatrical traditions. Here are a few intriguing ones that will add spice to the this year's season.

Drew Benjamin Jones plays soldier-poet Tommy in Truce. Photo by Mike Ko / siliconvalleydesigns.com.
Drew Benjamin Jones plays soldier-poet Tommy in Truce. Photo by Mike Ko / siliconvalleydesigns.com.

Truce: A Christmas Wish from the Great War

Nov. 20- Dec. 21
City Lights Theater Company, San Jose
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San Jose’s City Lights Theater Company offers an alternative to the usual assortment of Christmas classics with this world premiere play by Kit Wilder and Jeffrey Bracco,  local actors who costarred in City Lights’ recent production of Art. Truce: A Christmas Wish from the Great War is based on a historical incident from World War I, when opposing soldiers on the battlefield in France celebrated an impromptu ceasefire on Christmas Day, 1914, singing carols together and sharing provisions and holiday cheer before getting back to the important business of killing each other.

April Krautner plays Juliana in Jolly Juliana, or Her Fruitcake Has Nuts. Photo by Eric Chazankin.
April Krautner plays Juliana in Jolly Juliana, or Her Fruitcake Has Nuts. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Jolly Juliana, or Her Fruitcake Has Nuts

Nov. 21- Dec. 21
6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa
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Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse provides an old-time seasonal entertainment with Jolly Juliana, or Her Fruitcake Has Nuts, an original melodrama of the type that was popular in Victorian times. It’s written and directed by Larry Williams, who also plays the villain that audiences are encouraged to hiss to their hearts’ content. The second act is a vaudeville variety show of song, dance and comedy as it might have been performed a century ago. On its second stage, 6th Street presents the ever-popular Santaland Diaries, the one-man show based on David Sedaris’ hilarious first-person account of the indignities he suffered as a department store elf, starring David Yen. (Combined Artform is also presenting Santaland in San Francisco for a 13th year, with David Sinaiko playing the much-abused Crumpet the Elf.)

Bob McIntyre is Jerri Blank in Strangers with XXXmas Candy. Photo courtesy of Dreams on the Rocks Productions.
Bob McIntyre is Jerri Blank in Strangers with XXXmas Candy. Photo courtesy of Dreams on the Rocks Productions.

Strangers with XXXmas Candy

Dec. 4-20
EXIT Theatre, San Francisco
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It wouldn’t be the holiday season in San Francisco without some seriously campy drag shows. Trannyshack is now in its ninth year of The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes at the Victoria Theatre. Now it’s joined by yet another send-up of a beloved sitcom: Strangers with XXXmas Candy is based on the ’90s Comedy Central series Strangers with Candy, co-created by and starring Amy Sedaris (sister of the aforementioned David ). A spoof of cautionary 1980s after-school specials, Strangers was about a former “junkie whore” who returns to high school as a freshman at age 46. A parody of a parody with drag added to the mix, this version, by Dreams on the Rocks Productions, is directed by Dani Spinks with a script by Spinks, Ralph Hoy and Bob McIntyre, who plays the Sedaris role of the grotesquely grimacing Jerri Blank.

Damon Brennen, Paco Romane and Molly Benson in KMLZ: Holidaze. Photo courtesy of Killing My Lobster.
Damon Brennen, Paco Romane and Molly Benson in KMLZ: Holidaze. Photo courtesy of Killing My Lobster.

KMLZ: Holidaze

Dec. 12-13
Z Space, San Francisco
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San Francisco’s Killing My Lobster takes the time-honored approach of stuffing your stocking full of random odds and ends. The comedy troupe teams up with performing arts hub Z Space for KMLZ: Holidaze, a variety show combining KML’s acclaimed sketch comedy with music, burlesque, “Chrismahanukkwanzika cheer” and a whole lot of drag acts. Special guests vary between the two nights but include musician Tommy Shepherd of the hip hop collective Felonious, queer nun provocateurs the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (as “Celebrity Bad Santas”), SF drag king champions the Momma’s Boyz, the self-explanatory Rubenesque Burlesque, local taiko drumming ensemble Jiten Daiko, and dancer Monique Jenkinson’s drag queen persona, Fauxnique. Shepherd’s longtime Felonious collaborator,  actor-playwright Dan Wolf, directs. Comedian Nato Green hosts.

The screaming latke of  <i>The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming.</i> Photo courtesy of Peninsula Youth Theatre.
The screaming latke of  The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming. Photo courtesy of Peninsula Youth Theatre.

The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming

Dec. 12-13
Peninsula Youth Theatre, Mountain View
Tickets and Information

If this is all sounding way too Christmassy, we know a certain potato pancake who definitely feels the same way. In The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming, based on the children’s book of the same title by San Francisco author Lemony Snicket, the traditional fried Hanukkah treat takes off running from the frying pan and runs around trying to educate all the candy canes, pine trees and other goyish holiday symbols about what the Jewish holiday is all about, screaming in frustration when they just don’t get it. Peninsula Youth Theatre presents a world premiere stage adaptation by Dexter Fidler (best known as a local fight choreographer) in the Mountain View Center for the Arts’ intimate second stage, performed by teen actors as part of the company’s Stories on Stage series.

Sweet Can co-founder Kerri Kresinski performs an aerial silk act. Photo courtesy of Sweet Can Productions.
Sweet Can co-founder Kerri Kresinski performs an aerial silk act. Photo courtesy of Sweet Can Productions.

Mittens and Mistletoe: A Winter Circus Cabaret

Dec. 19-28
Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco
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The New Pickle Circus used to come out with a new show every December until its adoptive parent organization, Circus Center San Francisco, quietly retired the company a few years back. Since then other troupes have tumbled in to fill the gap in the same new-vaudeville tradition, which focuses  on clowning, juggling and acrobatic acts.  Cirque du Soleil’s steampunk Kurios offers a glitzy touring version that will be at AT&T Park through January 18.  But there’s something to be said for stripped-down, close-up circus magic in an intimate setting. That’s where San Francisco’s own Sweet Can Productions comes in with a holiday-themed variety show directed by local clown duo Coventry & Kaluza. Featuring live music by Berkeley’s Josh Garey (of Comfy Chair and  the Gun & Doll Show), Mittens and Mistletoe dazzles with trapeze, aerial accrobatics, hula hoop, juggling and clown acts from veteran performers such as former Pickle clown Diane “Pino” Wasnak.

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