The Best Salvage Vanguard Holiday Ever

Local Arts Reviews

Best Salvage Vanguard Holiday Ever: Like Hickory Farms for Theatre

Little City,

December 8

It's hard not to like those Christmastime snack baskets, those little gatherings of comestibles -- cheese logs, summer sausages, miniature jars of jellies, etc. -- sent by relatives who seem hellbent on keeping the likes of Swiss Colony and Harry & David in business. And, similarly, it's hard not to like The Best Salvage Vanguard Holiday Ever -- the latest in the series of such holiday shows visited by Salvage Vanguard Theater upon the tony interior of the Little City espresso bar downtown.

For five years, now, the company's been invading the cafe and bringing with them short plays, long talent, and a big audience. Definitely a big audience: dozens and dozens, crammed into the joint's various nooks like so many pecans in a fruitcake. And the SVT folks bring other companies into the mix, too, providing a sampler of performances written or acted or directed by artists more usually associated with Hyde Park Theatre and Rude Mechanicals and Refraction Arts Project and others. So there's diversity, as in all good snack baskets, and there's fun.

For the creators, the fun has begun the previous week. Each writer is informed of the topic for the year -- this year: star -- and then has a week to write a five-minute (or slightly longer) play. Then the actors and directors are chosen, and those worthies have only three hours in which to rehearse before opening night.

SVT co-artistic director Dan Dietz welcomed the gathered throng this year, bidding us a warm hello, assaying a few explanatory remarks and offering thanks to the proprietors. Then he led us all in a Christmas song. Yes, he really did. We sat there -- or stood there or leaned there or perhaps kind of lounged there between other bodies -- with the cold night air trying to blow in from beyond the front door, with the smell of coffee and chocolate and toasted cinnamon buns soothing our olfactory nerves, and we sang "White Christmas" together; and it was more sincere and true than it was hokey. Then SVT's Ray Colgan took the stage -- more precisely: stood atop the long Little City counter and paced like a mellow jungle cat -- and filled us in on What To Expect. And then, the plays.

Lowell Bartholomee's "Gift Registry of the Magi" started us off on a sweet comedic note, with Corey Gagne, Shannon McCormick, and Ben Willcott playing the Three Wise-Ass Men, directed by Ken Webster. Andrea Moon's "The Unimaginable Sky-Bound Future of Mona," directed by Shana Gold, gave us a glimpse into the life of a kid (Jenny Larson) determined to survive life in a wrenching family situation. "The Looly" by Jennifer Haley was a hilarious evocation of young astronomy geekdom (or something), directed by Shawn Sides and performed by Jenny Larson, Sarah Richardson, and Deanna Shoemaker. Shana Gold also directed John Walch's intense "Super Visium Corpus," in which a coroner (Michael Kranes) becomes weirdly delusional during the breakup of his marriage. Melanie Marnich brought us Ron Berry and Cyndi Williams as a couple of stardom wannabes, as directed by Ken Webster in "Shuffle Ball Change." Lisa D'Amour's enigmatic "Follow," with Michael Kranes, featured a whole, dripping, roast chicken thrown wildly across the room by Katey Gilligan and miraculously caught by Corey Gagne. "The Night Sky is Burned Black Blues," by Ray Colgan, directed by Shawn Sides and starring Ron Berry, Deanna Shoemaker, Cyndi Williams, and Ben Willcott, seemed a tribute to those whose lives were shattered by the World Trade Center violence. Travis York's "Yuletide Yea-Yea," a nod to the poor overlooked drummer (Judson Jones) in every garage band, was directed by Ryan Harper Gray and also featured Robert Newell and Ben Willcott. And finally, Kirk Lynn's "It Makes King Midas Look," a wonderful exploration of what might happen if you really could wish upon a star, directed by Johanna McKeon, had Shannon McCormick and Sarah Richardson bringing the audience to a laugh-filled happy ending.

Five years of this at Little City, and we await what SVT brings us next year. Because it really is a holiday present, a well-prepared theatrical snack basket, for the citizens of Austin.

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The Best Salvage Vanguard Holiday Ever, Salvage Vanguard Theater, Hyde Park Theatre, Rude Mechanicals, Refraction Arts Project, Dan Dietz, Ray Colgan, Lowell Bartholomee, Gift Registry of the Magi, Corey Gagne, Shannon McCormick, Ben Willcott, Ken Webster, Andrea Moon

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