Ratgirl's Holy Rockin' Christmas
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Dec. 20, 2002
Ratgirl's Holy Rockin' Christmas: X-mess
The Vortex, through Dec. 28
Running Time: 1 hr, 30 min
When it comes to Christmas, most artists take the easy way out. They find one aspect of the holiday -- jolly old St. Nick, The Nutcracker, Charlie Brown, Scrooge, Rudolph, the Grinch, Bedford Falls, Phil Spector's Christmas album, sometimes even, if you can believe it, the Nativity -- and hurl all their creative energies at that and that alone. Such artists are wimps. They're intimidated by the sprawling, fractured mishmash that truly is the yuletide in postmodern America.
A real artist takes on the whole bloated corpus -- the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, Christmas Original Recipe and Christmas Extra Crispy -- and crafts creative critiques that encompass the profane and sacred, Bethlehem to der Bingle. Such an artist is Ratgirl, whose Holy Rockin' Christmas tosses the yule's manifold manifestations into an artistic blender, from which she serves up holiday cheer in a mighty mythological mélange, a veritable X-mess. From the opening in pitch-black, with the ruminative rodent evoking the Biblical void and the eternal struggle between Good (the Rat) and Evil (Col. Sanders), the show meanders through the transportation travails of the Christ Child's parents making their way to "Beth-ee-hem," a guitar duet that segues smartly from "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" into the Boston megahit "More Than a Feeling," two of the Almighty's cherubim fretting over the Heavenly Homeland Security Act, nattily tuxedoed special guest star Mr. Broadway lip-synching a Mel Torme rendition of "Pennies From Heaven," and Ratgirl and Jobber Ratgirl facing off in the rap challenge "My Art Is Better Than Your Art." My!
Of course, it wouldn't be the birthday of the Prince of Peace without sex and violence, and in Ratgirl's holiday extravaganza they abound. In her nod to Tchaikovsky, ballet dancers in anatomically correct body stockings let their Vienna sausage-size appendages flounce in the breeze and perform "Waltz of the Flowers" by flexing their glutei. An amnesiac Santa suffers a savage beating at the tiny hands (and tiny hammers) of two elves. (Could you imagine a more potent indictment of labor relations at the North Pole?) The unspeakably evil Evil Ratgirl and Evil Jobber Ratgirl -- their very beards inspire terror! -- contemplate mass mayhem in exquisitely cultured English accents. And when Joseph and Mary upgrade their mode of travel from stick horse to magic bus -- economically represented by a cardboard box marked with the words "Magic Bus" -- an unfortunate traffic crash leads to the maiming of two Arabs (with Ratgirl pointing out to one of the moaning victims, "Shut up, foreign man. This play is not about you").
Naturally, no Arabs were harmed in the making of this show. The burnoose-clad figure who kisses asphalt when "the wheels of the bus go round and round" is none other than everyone's favorite Teutonic television host, Uncle Cuddles. He proves his versatility here portraying not only a German-accented Middle Easterner, but also a German-accented elf and a German-accented angel! His Hispanic sidekick Spiccy, being a holiday guest of Uncle Sam, does not appear, but providing more than able support in his stead is his brother Spicardo. In fact, he and Cuddles take the seasonal spectacle to new heights crossing swords in a yule duel. (Imagine how many other tiresome Christmas shows would be made palatable by some festive fencing: Scrooge parrying a thrust by the Spirit of Christmas Past; épée-wielding Rockettes alternating high kicks with lunges!)
Still, the show belongs to Ratgirl Rattus, who is equally at home playing Joseph, addressing issues of theological import (Jobber Ratgirl's complaint of "Why does Mary have so few lines?"), tap-tap-tapping on Vortex's chamber floor, and metamorphosing into an emerald amphibian. That climactic transformation may leave you in the dark as much at the show's end as in its beginning; Ratgirl works in mysterious ways, her wonders to perform. Still, this much is clear: In confronting the many-headed hydra that is Christmas 2002, Ratgirl proves again that her creative courage is as long as her bandaged tail. After all, what other artist's seasonal offering will leave you to wonder as you wander into the o-holy night, "Why are there so many songs about rainbows?"