A Kodachrome Christmas

Sweet, funny family fare that proves you can't ever have enough Christmas shows

Arts Review

A Kodachrome Christmas

Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center,
701 W. Riverside, 474-5664

Dec. 15-19

Running time: 1 hr., 45 min.

Here we have yet another Christmas show that proves the old adage: You can't ever have enough Christmas shows. If you peruse the performing arts listings this month, you'll find mostly seasonal holiday fare, and why not? No matter your religious or spiritual background, the holiday season is magical, celebratory, and nostalgic, ripe with both comedic and dramatic possibilities.

Pat Hazell, the onetime Seinfeld writer who brought Austin The Wonder Bread Years and Bunk Bed Brothers, writes and directs this tale of Earlene Hoople, TV hostess of The Early Bird Morning Show on Dripping Springs Cable Access Channel 17. Earlene, at least as played by Marianne Curan – formerly of the Groundlings and a regular on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno – is like the nicest neighbor you've ever had or could possibly imagine having. She's funny; she's friendly; she's charming; she bakes. She does crafts, but you forgive her because the things she makes are so much fun. Being welcomed into her TV studio is like being welcomed into her home.

And what a wonderful home it is. Not to give too much away, but the set, designed by Steve Wheeldon, besides representing a very warm kitchen and appropriately decorated living room on the two sides of the stage, is rigged with Christmas surprises that Earlene reveals at appropriate moments. Earlene is taping her first Christmas special in front of a live audience, so the premise allows Curan to interact extensively with the crowd, and Curan does so in a completely nonthreatening, always fun manner. There are other "characters" in the show – a bird, appropriately enough, and a technician named Spider – but the show belongs to Earlene.

Hazell knows the appeal of nostalgia, and he capitalizes on it here in a way similar to The Wonder Bread Years. One scene revolves around projecting a set of Kodachrome slides, and Earlene comments on the slides (one of which depicts a 5-year-old boy in full cowboy regalia, lighting his grandmother's cigarette) with great affection and humor, just as Hazell does in Wonder Bread. It's tried and true, and it works. Indeed, a lot of things in Hazell's script work, including an impromptu choir bell performance, the baking of Christmas cookies, and a presentation of awards for local Christmas crafts (the winner: a Christmas wreath made mostly of tiny green army men). These short scenes are interspersed with some well-made commercials offering such Catholic-oriented fare as the Praying Hands Vise and the law firm of Fatherson and Holygost.

If it sounds funny and almost utterly nonthreatening, that's because that's exactly what it is. It's charming and homey, and those are the show's greatest strengths. Still, it feels lighter than it perhaps should. Hazell introduces a subplot, one I'm hesitant to mention simply because I don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that the subplot, which actually plays a major role in tying up the story, feels almost thrown away, and given the brief running time of the show, adding something to flesh it out would likely be a help. That caveat aside, this is sweet, funny family fare from Sweetwood Productions and the Long Center to help you celebrate your holiday.

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A Kodachrome Christmas, Pat Hazell, Marianne Curan, Sweetwood Productions, Long Center

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