Doug Jarecki makes sitcom writing look easy. Seen from a certain perspective, ’Twas the Month Before Christmas is a fun splicing of pilot episodes for three different TV sitcoms that will never air. Taken individually, each of the three storylines runs for about the length of a standard sitcom. This is the type of stuff we've all come to associate with the casual comfort of our own living rooms. It might seem strange going to a cozy, little theatre to watch light comedy, but there’s a great warmth about laughter in a live setting that simply isn’t there with a laugh track, bumpers and commercials.
What’s more...Jarecki has crafted three episodes of three different non-existent TV sitcoms far from the soullessly grinding machine of Hollywood. Any one episode of any major network show seems to always have at least a couple of different writers tripping over each other in desperation for success. (New York and Southern California are littered with writers who would all LOVE to work on sitcoms.) ’Twas the Month Before Christmas comes from a Writer’s Room For One. It’s one guy coming-up with three really satisfying shows with a really great cast. Here’s a look at what a typical prime-time line-up might look like on the Jarecki Comedy Network:
Mary and Joe (another title might be "Made by Joe")--Jarecki and Sara Zientek star in a touching comedy about an unwed pregnant woman who marries a down-on-his-luck carpenter. They’re living in the desert, which is difficult for a carpenter. She’s got a rather unique explanation for her pregnancy. The idea of fusing the story of Jesus’ parents with a contemporary romantic comedy is strikingly clever. The dialogue between the two of them feels really authentic. It’s fun to see such universally-known characters tethered to an earthbound comedy like this.
Magi Road (or maybe...”Magi Nation”?...)--A buddy road trip comedy about three kings traveling to Bethlehem for the big birth. Doug Jarecki plays Melchior--the crass and confident alpha...uh...king who brings the gift of gold. He’s reluctant to go along, but he’s going on the trip in hopes of helping-out his friend Gaspar. Mitch Weindorf is compellingly sympathetic as Gaspar--a man who is hopelessly in love with a servant girl. The other two travel with him to Bethlehem just to get his mind off of his love for her. John Cramer is comically human as Balthasar--the one of three who is least-suited to the physical demands of travel. Jarecki nails the comic camaraderie of three guys who happen to be employed as royalty. Again--classic characters from an old story are given new life in a light comedy in which three guys get to know each other just a bit better.
Hotel Bethlehem (or..."Manger Strangers")--Lindsey Gagliano and John Cramer play daughter and father in charge of a hotel that is, strangely enough, attached to a manger. Gagliano and Cramer have a palpable connection. Cramer is charming as a widower father trying to find some sort of meaning in the world through reaching for something more than the mundane. Gagliano has a sparkling sense of empathy about her as a woman trying to live up to the memory of her mother by making the most of a hotel that constantly smells of farm animals due to its proximity to the attached manger.
It’s three episodes of three different non-existent sitcoms that all come to meet in the end. Really it’s worth the price of admission just to see how Jarecki managed to craft such satisfying light comedy out of such familiar characters and settings without resorting to hack comedy cliches more than once or twice. This is a fun alternative to more traditional holiday fare.
’Twas the Month Before Christmas runs through Dec. 23 at the Next Act Theatre on 255 S. Water St. For ticket reservations and more, visit Next Act online.