SUBMITTED PHOTO/Courtesy of Audra Hatch. “A Christmas Survival Guide” opens Friday and runs through Dec. 18 at City Theater. The show includes holiday music and a crazy sleigh ride. Pictured from left are: Miles Obrey, Maddy Jarvis, Rebecca Rinaldi and Brian McAloon.

BIDDEFORD — There are exactly 24 days remaining in the holiday shopping season. 

Did you jump, gasp or drop your paper in panic?

If you did, your panic is the subject of “A Christmas Survival Guide,” a rousing show that opens Friday at Biddeford’s City Theater.

The play, conceived and written by James Hindman and Ray Roderick with musical arrangements by John Glaudini, tells the tale of four people as they try to survive the frantic holiday season, all while finding love, exploring sexuality and struggling to navigate the modern world.

City Theater’s set is simple in fashion, adorned with a simple Christmas tree on either side of the proscenium and with the band sprawled out across the stage. In many ways, it’s almost too symmetrical, but the action on stage provides plenty of depth.

The cast, though small, is impressive. While there are no named characters in the show, the actors play themselves as they struggle to make it out of the Christmas season alive. Further, their musicianship should be commended, as nearly all of the show is sung, in some form, and the harmonies blend together quite well.

Miles Obrey, a senior at Gorham High School known for his role as Chino in City Theater’s “West Side Story,” sings confidently and effortlessly, his tender vocals floating through the air. Maddy Jarvis — who played Maria in “West Side Story” — plays Obrey’s love interest, and her tender yet strong voice is a display of her versatility as an actress. Her ability to rise and fall in both volume and tone are impressive.

Rebecca Rinaldi sasses things up with her strong, sultry personality and roaring voice, and Brian McAloon’s voice stands out — particularly in his rendition of “O Holy Night,” his powerful vocals soaring into the rafters during the final chorus.

While the cast shines, the plot, however, can be murky. The story is captured in a series of related vignettes, which stand out on their own but aren’t as easily understood as a whole. One can be left wondering: who are these people, what are they doing and how are they connected?

Despite a few quips in plot, the play is rife with both elements of satire and dark humor. In a rousing and apprehensive rendition of “Silver Bells,” Obrey’s tempo increases to the point of calamity.

“Silver bells, silver bells, it’s Christmas time in the city,” he sings, immediately before taking a phone call. The nostalgia of the holiday season — the yearning to make things perfect — juxtaposed with the pressures and distractions of modernity is a critique of our urban way of life.

The point is further driven home when, during the middle of the song, Tarzan’s distinct call can be heard from offstage. In essence, the city — and, by extension, the holiday season — is a zoo, a jungle.

Bear in mind, the humor in “A Christmas Survival Guide” may not be appropriate for all audiences. McAloon, as an Elvis-inspired Santa Claus, makes several obvious sexual innuendos, while Rinaldi constantly makes references to her “whip” and “riding with Santa Claus.

But Rinaldi also steals the show in one scene during which she portrays a recovering addict — of, apparently, everything — in a cheeky “12 Steps” take on the “12 Days of Christmas.”

“Five smoking patches,” she bellows in place of golden rings, her tempo and temper also rising to new limits as she continues on. Eventually losing it, crying about overeating on pounds and pounds of chocolate, her meltdown is a further metaphor of the stress of the holiday season.

Overall, it are the themes of “A Christmas Survival Guide” that stand out amid the frantic nature of its plot. In fact, the disjunct storyline underscores the entirely exhaustive nature of the holiday season.

The plot is a reminder for us to slow down, knowing that no matter how crazy, how hectic or how horribly the holiday itself may go, it’s important to think of what really matters during the holidays: the people around us who make them special.

Toward the end of the show, the narrator references the holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” reminding listeners that the protagonist, George Bailey, nearly jumped from a bridge. How sorry we feel for him, the narrator says, that he would contemplate ending his own life.

But it’s not that Bailey almost jumped, advises the narrator, it’s that he didn’t. Remember, we all have guardian angels in our lives, and they will get us through the chaos that is the Christmas season.

“A Christmas Survival Guide” runs Friday through Dec. 18 at The City Theater, 205 Main St., Biddeford. Tickets are $20 for all seats, and can be purchased at the theater or at citytheater.org. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and select Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m. Please note there is no show Sunday, Dec. 4.

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]


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