If you are looking for an alternative form of Christmas entertainment, you can do no better than The Crowded Kitchen Players' production of "The Down of a Thistle" appearing at The Unicorn Theatre in Catasaqua.
How many times can can a human being listen to Paul and Linda McCartney warble through "Wonderful Christmastime?" How about watch the same holiday movies over and over again every year? Spoiler alert, Clark Griswold gets the lights on and Bill Murray gets his Christmas spirit back.
This being a murder mystery, set in an Adirondack Mountains lodge on Christmas Eve, you won't get many plot points out of this reviewer. It would be a heinous disservice.
This story of treachery, selfishness, and murder set against the back drop of the holiday and Clement Clarke Moore's classic poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas", will have you reeling with laughter and bemusement.
Experiencing this dark comedy enveil through this intricately articulate script is a gift bestowed upon the audience by playwright and director, Ara Barlieb.
It is layered, twisted, and deliciously funny.
The ensemble cast is led by the magnificent Brian Wendt. This is the third time I have had the pleasure of watching Mr. Wendt command the stage. He is cementing himself as one of the finest actors in the Lehigh Valley.
His panache and timing are unrivaled, and just when you think you've seen all that he can bring to the table he reveals another depth of his unfathomable talent and what he is willing to do to get a laugh (which is, by the way, absolutely anything.)
As his wife, Carla Thew, brings gravitas juxtaposed with vulnerability to the proceedings. Her facial expressions alone are worth the ticket price.
She is joined by her real life daughter, Grayson, perfectly cast as the main characters' daughter bringing authenticism as a teen in peril.
The remaining family members include Sharon Ferry and Jeanie Olah. Ferry never disappoints, this time as Thew's mother, more concerned about where her next drink will come from rather than preoccupy herself with the stakes of the evening.
Her one liners are laugh punches to the gut, with Ferry serving as the Muhammad Ali of farce.
Olah anchors the family with her performance seeming to be the voice of reason in a situation void of reason.
The family are not the only participants in the deadly turn of events.
Thomas Harrison does a scene stealing turn as the family secretary with the thickest Scottish brogue since James Doohan kept the USS Enterprise afloat. (Note to reader, some performances of "Thistle" may feature different actors in some of the roles.)
Margaret Rawdon brings real chutzpah with her character as well as a sense of dignity.
Stepanie Walsh ups the ante with her vocal prowess and sense of urgency. As an outsider to the family, she often seems to be the only character with any sense that anyone is in danger. She adeptly conveys the audience's point of view, if they weren't laughing so hard
Rounding out the cast is the venerable, Dan Ferry. Ferry has made a name for himself in the Lehigh Valley as a steadfast and sincere leading man. He is skilled, physically adroit, and easy on the eyes. But in "Thistle", Ferry delivers a bare bones performance which for a large part of the show, borders on mime.
I know what you're thinking. Mime? Trust me. We are talking a physical kind of comedy utilized by legends like Dick Van Dyke or Rowan Atkinson. Ferry does speak, but the best bits are in his mere prescence. Keep your eyes on him, and not just because he is a gorgeous stack of pancakes.
Adding another slant on this dysfunctional frolic is Alexandra Racines' turn as the family servant. Racines attacks the role with a catty yet cold approach raising the intrigue factor to another level.
Do yourself a favor. Instead of listening to Jose Feliciano repeat himself in Spanish again and again or watching Charlie Brown be mistreated by those awful children in the Peanuts gang (seriously, those kids are downright sociopaths), haul your cookies out in the cold and settle down for a long winter's night with The Crowded Kitchen Players doing what they've done best for years, turn the screws on normalcy and push the envelope of theatre.
"The Down of a Thistle" runs December 10th, 16th, and 17th at 8 pm and December 11th and 18th at 2pm at The Unicorn Theatre, 417 Front Street, Catasaqua, PA.