Sunday, December 21, 2014

Review: ELFuego

BCKSEET Productions' ELFuego by Kate Brennan, reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield

Review: ELFuego


By Wendy Rosenfield

For the Inquirer

Just as most Jewish holidays have the same theme (They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.), some attentive comedian--Seinfeld? Stewart?--noted that many Christmas stories also share a common plot: someone’s trying to steal Christmas and we have to get it back! BCKSEET Productions’ newest entry into the crowded yuletide market is true to that form with ELFuego, an original musical by company artistic director Kate Brennan, in which Occupying elves hijack the holiday.

And that’s where things get muddy. Scab the Elf (tiny Sarah Doherty, whose wide-eyed comedic style outclasses this script) accidentally set Santa’s workshop ablaze, resulting in what sounds like a North Pole version of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. The elves went on strike and Scab, as one might expect, brought in four human replacements: Frank, an ex-soldier (Jeremy Gable), Euki, a pregnant ex-nun (Maria Konstantinidis), Quran, a Muslim student (Craig Bazan) and Hope, a half-Jewish businesswoman from an undetermined profession. 

These non-elf workers, kidnapped and tied to chairs in some sort of interrogation room, sing several “I am” songs followed by a few longing “I want songs,” almost all of which sound remarkably similar (Frank’s country-tinged “Particular” is a welcome exception), until, yes, Christmas is saved. But somewhere along the way, Brennan’s script backs away from its political and multicutural overtones, leaving both issues not only unresolved but perhaps sending a message opposite the one she intended. 

It’s surely not a great week to mess up a unionist fable (see: Michigan), and never a great time to depict members of other religions being held against their will and forced to participate in Christian rituals (see: Inquisition), not even if they don choir robes and the Muslim starts singing a joyous gospel tune (“When Will the Light Shine?”). The gift here, that this cast’s considerable charm, chops and enthusiasm exceed Brennan’s material and director Brandon King McShaffrey’s inconsistent direction (Why do characters sometimes open and walk through a door, but later just step around that same wall?), may be something of a holiday miracle.


Playing at: Skybox at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St., Philadelphia. Through Saturday, Dec. 29. Tickets: $21 to $28. Information: 267-603-3533 or

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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