Urban Tales (Ladies’ Night) at the Centaur Theatre promised an “anti-yuletide spectacular”, but it delivered a corny, goofy, laugh-with-us-cry-with-us Christmas special. For better or for worse, Urban Tales was very far from the dark, irreverent comedy it promised.
The show was composed of six monologues and some wicked guitar solos in-between. They ranged from the hilariously cartoonish to the tragically erotic. The range of themes, situations, and characters was impressive, not to mention the variety of tones they hit to back them up. My personal favorites were Woman, From Behind; Christmas Cheer; and A Christmas Curdle. These were the ones that went all out. There were no messages or morals at the end; instead, they delivered comments on their characters’ psyches through goofball antics or exaggerated drama. Yvan Bienvenue’s Woman From Behind was a Baudelaire-esque sexual confession by Leni Parker. Yes, we’ve seen it before – the dark atmosphere, the clichéd poetics, but it’s still entertaining, if delivered well. Here, the actor’s voice and intensity was mesmerizing. It was thoroughly out-of-place amidst the comedy of the other acts, but it was a good breather.
The Naughty List was quite the ride. It was the story of a woman who loved Christmas to the point of psychosis. The strange, hysterical, twitchy acting really sold it, and the twist ending was deeply satisfying.
The last piece was a satire of A Christmas Carol told by Julie Tamiko Manning. The Scrooge in this was the artistic director of a successful theatre who was putting on the play A Christmas Carol (meta!) and was completely disillusioned with the theatre community. Although it did wink at itself profusely, it wasn’t annoying or overdone.
The other three monologues were also good – perhaps a little less polished than the ones previously mentioned, but still entertaining. A joke here and there fell flat, or a character became unlikable, but all in all, the energy was high and nothing dragged.
The tie-in with Christmas was, at times, feeble. I felt that the décor was misleading as to what the show was really about. From the cardboard cutouts of Santa and Mrs. Claus holding booze bottles, to the pagan-esque Christmas tree with a stocking hung in the position of a penis (ohhhh, well hung, I get it now!), there was the implication that this would be an irreverent look at what Christmas has become. Instead, it was a tame, cartoonish, chick-flick of a Christmas special. Yes, it fell into the rated R zone at times (particularly with Woman, From Behind), but it was far from scandalous.
If you’re tired of The Nutcracker (or A Christmas Carol), this is a fun alternative to the usual Christmas shows, but no inner Grinches will be satisfied by this one.