DESPITE incessant commercials and 24/7 seasonal-music radio programming, not everyone buys into the December Holiday Industrial Complex. More of your family, friends and neighbors than you might expect find this time of year annoying, if not insufferable - or downright depressing. And this weekend, there's a show just for them.
Tonight and Saturday, the Rrazz Room, in New Hope, is presenting "Oy Vey In A Manger." It's a musical comedy by the self-styled "dragapella" troupe, the Kinsey Sicks, and it is definitely not intended to create warm-and-fuzzy holiday feelings.
"'Oy Vey in A Manger' is the antidote to forced holiday good cheer," explained Benjamin Schatz - the piece's lead author, as well as a member of its four-person cast - during a recent phone call.
"There's a certain kind of expectation about the holidays which does not work for so many people: The 'Christmas must be perfect' mentality. That's not what most people experience, and this show makes fun of that. It's a relief. People love it."
As its title suggests, "Oy Vey In A Manger" is a jaundiced look at the Nativity marinated in a heaping helping of Jewish humor and references.
The setting is the modest shelter where, the Gospels tell us, Jesus Christ was born. But in this show, there are present four individuals never mentioned in the more familiar version of the story: Rachel, Winnie, Trixie and Trampolina, who, we're told, actually call the manger home.
"We were there before [Joseph and Mary arrived] - it was a bargain, it was a regular 'Bethlehem steal,' ragged Schatz, a man obviously brave (or shameless) enough to make such a wonderfully horrible pun. "We were there when the Baby Jesus was . . . born. We have a rich and memorable story about that event."
But doesn't that offend those who believe in the more traditional tale? "Some things have been misinterpreted," said Schatz, still in put-on mode. "But we deal in facts. We were there. We were witnesses."
Schatz, who is Jewish, acknowledged that his program is not for everyone, and admitted that even those who aren't offended by its basic premise may still occasionally experience a cringe-worthy moment or two. Not that he's concerned or contrite.
"We're not afraid to take risks," he offered. "People who are looking for something safe and conventional have a multitude of boring choices they can look at. Most people feel uncomfortable at some moment in the show - and that's OK. That's a good thing. Not everything has to be safe. And people like to be scandalized.
"Even if there's some moments in the show where somebody says, 'Ooh, did they really go there?' they stick around because it's an unpredictable ride, and they want to see where we're going to take them next."
Besides, he added, "The characters are lovable, the music is beautiful and the humor is just all wrong in a way that's just right."
Whether the music is "beautiful," is a subjective call, but it's certainly familiar. You can easily guess to what tunes such ditties as "God Bless Ye Femmy Lesbians," "Satan Baby" and "I'm Dreaming of a Betty White Christmas" are sung. But according to Schatz, the score is not comprised of total rewrites a la Weird Al Yankovic.
"What we managed to do is change the fewest lyrics possible to twist the songs as much as possible," he said. "We do carefully crafted parodies. That's what people love. People say, 'Oh my God, I will never be able to here "O Come All Ye Faithful" in the same way again.' "
And why is that?
"I am not going to reveal that in a family newspaper," he insisted.
So, if you're going to see "Oy Vey In A Manger," consider yourself warned: "Elf" this ain't. And for those who go and are put off by the show's irreverence, you'd do well to heed Schatz's words:
"My response to people who have trouble with the show," he said, "is 'No refunds!' "
A holiday tradition continues
If you are looking for something a little more traditional and family-friendly, be advised that "A Christmas Carol" tonight opens its traditional run at Princeton University's McCarter Theatre.
This is a faithful rendition of Charles Dickens' iconic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Christmas Eve he spends in the company of three wraiths whose efforts result in his spiritual transformation from hateful curmudgeon to good-hearted soul.