Vignettes of holiday twinkle Local playwrights sparkle in 'Christmas at Ground Zero'

LAWSON TAITTE Theater Critic  
Published: December 5, 2003

Santa outscores the birthday boy about 7-1 as subject of the plays in this year's Christmas at Ground Zero. The odds are a little closer to even when you match up serious pieces to the comical ones. However you keep score, though, the local and regional playwrights involved are winners pretty much all the way around.

Ground Zero Theater Company opened its annual assortment of 10-minute plays (mostly premieres) on holiday themes in the Gallery Space of the Bath House Cultural Center on Thursday. It's amazing how much the writers can cram into such small packages. The performances, under directors Matt Tomlanovich and Wm. Paul Williams, are bright as Christmas bells, too.

Some of Dallas' most prominent playwrights offer their wares. Valerie Brogan Powell's "Nativity" is perhaps the most moving of the vignettes. A middle-aged brother and sister quarrel over the crèche they find in their late mother's attic. Ms. Brogan Powell manages to suggest an entire - and troubled - family history in her 10 minutes.

In "A Visit with St. Nick," Vicki Caroline Cheatwood speaks almost in her own voice. The main character is a playwright who has written Christmas plays before - but kind of cheated. In those older works, the holiday was just background. This time she wants to say what's really on her mind this time of year.

She barges into the dressing room of a department store where the guy who plays Santa, exhausted after a hard day of kiddies on his lap, is changing into his street clothes. He just wants to go home. But she has to pour her heart out about how much she misses the real Christmases - the ones when she still believed in Santa.

James Venhaus sets both his short plays in offices - each inhabited by characters played by the delectable Andra Laine. In "Santa's Little Helper," the playwright leads us to believe that the sexy main character offers her favors to a line of co-workers waiting outside the door. She gives them satisfaction, all right, but of a different kind.

Mrs. Laine portrays a solitary receptionist harried by too many phone calls in Mr. Venhaus' "Happy Holidays from Anderson, Davis, Seton & Fenner." The character undergoes a lot of development in the play's brief span.

Almost all the short pieces pay off in one way or another. Current events shadow some of them. In several others, the city of Mesquite comes in for a kidding.

For sure, you'll leave shouting, "Ho, ho, ho!"

E-mail ltaitte@dallasnews.com

Christmas at Ground Zero 2003, presented by Ground Zero Theater Company, at the Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Dr. at Northcliff, Wednesdays through Saturdays through Dec. 20. Runs 160 min. Tickets $10 to $12. Call 214-339-0585 or go to www.groundzerotheater.org.

PHOTO(S): (JOHN F. RHODES/Staff Photographer) From left: Valerie Hauss-Smith, Brian Witkowicz and John Hanners perform in "The Tooth Fairy's Christmas Wish," part of Christmas at Ground Zero at the Bath House Cultural Center.
 

Copyright 2003 The Dallas Morning News