A review with commentary by Patrick Shannon, III

by Patrick Shannon, III, www.CrescentCityChronicles.net

Yuletide, a new play by local academic playwright, Jim Fitzmorris (Tulane University http://www2.tulane.edu/main.cfm), is on the boards (or in this case bored) at Southern Repertory Theatre http://www.southernrep.com/. It should have been titled Muletide (because it is unpleasantly and stubbornly confusing) and if not avoided like mule merde - this play should be quickly thrown away, or shipped like an old gamey mule to the Glue Factory on the next high tide.

It is being touted as a Christmas treat for children and adults; but is it? The production is a technically fine treat for theatre patrons - the colorful building block set pieces placed before the backdrop of a beautifully painted giant green, Yule time tree, and its "reflection" on the stage, sprinkled with snow, was a compelling clever bit of stagecraft conceived by Diana Cupsa (Tulane University). Lighting design by Scott Stewart is shimmeringly concocted to resemble The Northern Lights which glimmered on some lovely costumes designed by Michelle Bohn (Tulane University). Excellent sound design by Marcus Stanley was effective. And how the actors do glow with talent as they attempt to make sense out of what is basically one of the most boring scripts I've had the misfortune to sit through. The whimsical map of the town of Yuletide in the program helps to understand the play's confusion; but a play should not be a geography text book with the aspirations of a novel mimicking a work of Lewis G. Carroll. More confusing than amusing, with little original charm, the play comes off as the pompous self indulgent scribbling of some drug deranged mind after binge drinking too many bottles of "Whiska Snaps."

Here is what the press release says of this play: 'Welcome to the Christmas capitol of Yuletide, a Christmas world unlike any you've ever seen before, where Santa's sleigh is actually a clipper ship pulled not by eight reindeer but by eight teams of reindeer; where elves submit their ideas for Christmas gifts to bureaucratic porcupines who run the office of "What's the Bright Idea;" and where children play hide-and-seek amidst gigantic talking pumpkins. On this, the first day of the Christmas season, as students from each of the eight houses of elves prepare for the annual scholastic achievement competition, Santa sends out a message with the penguin town crier that shakes the snow off the pine trees: this will be the last year in his reign as Claus the twenty third.'

Well, I guess that's what it's about. Most people I've spoken to can't figure it out and don't care to. Very subtly depressing is the idea of Mr. and Mrs. Claus (Jackson Townsend and Carol Sutton) leaving their mortal existence for their next incarnation; but unlike Daisy Gamble (Barbra Streisand) singing the title song at the finale of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, they neither get to sing an uplifting title song knowing they are about to die to be reborn, nor do they soar through glowing clouds. At the end of Muletide's thalidomide-ly convoluted plot, the mule's bray is on the audience - adult and child. The Christmas message seems to be: "God mess us everyone!"

In a show of appreciation for what must have been a near impossible task, let us at least name the actors who tried to make sense of this senseless gallop into a cutesy wootsy, frisky Fritzy frenzy of overwrought word play; and the mewly pewly, loopy doopy droopy poopy plot structure that one can safety describe as opaque and Byzantinian or rococo or ro-coo-coo, if nothing else. Wendi Berman, Benjamin Clement, Rebecca Frank, Aimée Hayes Sean Patterson, Gary Rucker, Carol Sutton, Jackson Townsend, are the fine performers, and each did what seemed like solo selections from an eccentric British music hall pantomime comedy act routine, and as such they deserve our polite applause. Particularly charming was the well executed sock puppet child actress created by Mrs. Ryan Rilette.

(Instead of counting visions of Sugar Plums dancing in the program it was interesting to note the number of personages involved with Tulane Department of Theatre and Dance http://www.tulane.edu/~theatre/faculty.html, some of which were even lurking in the shadows of scenery and paint, frippery finery, and Special Thanks.)

Buzz Podwell (Tulane University) tried to give this soporific insubstantial shadow of a play some substance, and almost succeeded. I can only imagine what he would have done with a theatrically interesting script.

But let me discuss this play. When one compares Yultide to some of the other creditable works penned by Mr. Fitzmorris such as With Malice Towards All, Fifteen Minutes At Midway (a collaboration with Laura Harrington and Matthew Maguire), The House of Plunder, and The Last Madam, the later with Carl Walker, one can only assume that this uniquely muddy bit of writing was done under duress, a post Katrina mind collapse, or perhaps his creative juices have just become a dribble of wiggle into a winter wonderland of wasted talent.

The first act was quite simply a boring black lump of coal in its attempt to posture as exposition of the multitudinous plots and themes: universal, local, and political. The second act was more of the same, but it galloped along like eight tiny deformed reindeer in its attempt to bring to a dozen denouements those various plots and themes.

How this play could be foisted on the public as something worthwhile escapes me, even though Mr. Fitzmorris is now advising my fellow critics that "unless we accept the muddle mindlessness of the show as a joke upon the public sensibilities, we don't get the joke." (And Mr. Rucker, in a perverted Christmas wish, is quoted from his web presence http://www.myspace.com/ruckertown as writing that he would like to meet: "People who come see Yuletide. Also people who don't, so I can cut them. That's right.") All I can say is that I got the joke, and the joke is on the playwright; and the cruel cut was on the audience of all ages. Not to mention the tasteless joke is also on all the good people with honorable intentions who accepted this piece of theatrical trash as worthy of production.

Numerous attendees tell me that after the first act some people usually never returned. (Not returning was an early Holiday present in my opinion.)

I understand that Mr. Fitzmorris is now also claiming this to be a "work in progress" and consequently he is taking public reaction into consideration for a rewrite. Save your time, "Sir!" Either burn it and claim no responsibility for having written it, or use it as a text book example in your classes at Tulane University of how not to write a play.

Give us another one of your possibly enduring examples of whatever academic and play writing talent you still have left, and leave this kind of kiddie/adult nonsense to those who can do it. And it has been done before and better than Yuletide in its present state.

Until then, we can remember this bit of partridge in a pear tree poop as Muletide. It just didn't move. At all. Anywhere of interest.

Looks like you slipped and "hit the bricks" with this one Mr. Fitzmorris. Stop making excuses. Just let it die and be disposed of like Hans Christian Andersen's Little Fir Tree and give us another one of your real dramas, not a "fruitcakey" concoction that crumbles before our eyes as a mess of inept playwright's craft, somewhat like a fruit cake whipped up by a bad cook. Too many ingredients that don't hold together.

Yuletide is "so tinsel," is another quote from the on campus "reviewer," Fran Simon, published in the Tulane University Magazine and on line on the Internet http://www2.tulane.edu/article_news_details.cfm?ArticleID=6972. "Tinsel" it is not; more thinny tinny I would say.

No more Muletides, please! Such puffery, piffle, posing and posturing just adds to my conclusion that the current crop of faculty, staff, and students of the Tulane Department of Theatre and Dance http://www.tulane.edu/~theatre/about.html is the reincarnated model of hypocrites and poseurs satirized in Moliere's play Les Precieuses Ridicule first performed before the court of Louis XIV in 1659. How well toute le monde of Les Precieuses Ridicule still lives Uptown in its patrolled neighborhoods, protected and safe among the sacred oak groves of Academia on the private property of the venerable institution of Tulane University in New Orleans!

Please use the following hyperlinks to read David Cuthbert's, of The Times Picayune, articles on Yuletide: http://www.nola.com/entertainment/t-p/index.ssf?/base/entertainment-0/1163140252296570.xml&;coll=1 and http://www.nola.com/entertainment/t-p/index.ssf?/base/entertainment-0/1164438688207060.xml&;coll=1.