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Barney the Elf
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2018-12-26

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Playwright: Bryan Renaud & Emily Schmidt

At: Pride Films & Plays at the Pride Arts Broadway, 4139 N. Broadway. Tickets: PrideFilmsandPlays.com; 773-857-0222; $20-$30. Runs through: Jan. 6

Marley isn't the sole casualty this yuletide.

Bryan Renaud and Emily Schmidt begin their story with the violent death of the North Pole's patriarch—Santa Claus, to us—in an industrial accident. Leadership of his toymaking empire reverts, not to his widow, but to their son, who promptly inaugurates policies designed to increase the productivity of his elvish staff to the detriment of its morale.

The employee most affected by Santa Junior's draconian measures is Barney—who is "gay," not only by virtue of his propensity for boners at the sight of hunky deliverymen, but also for his unswerving optimism and sunny disposition. After exile to an earthly snow-globe realm called Chicago, Barney finds work in a Boystown bar where he meets a slinky drag performer, who helps him to accept who he is and forgive his persecutors—all in time to save the ( Christmas ) day.

His progress is chronicled with the aid of body-fluid jokes, masturbation jokes, fellatio jokes, bawdy double-entendres, Dr. Seuss-style rhymes, arcane Shakespearean references, threadbare political jokes, an abundance of vulgar language, a serenade to homophobia set to the melody of "I Will Survive," a solemn rendition of the Christian hymn "O Holy Night" and a number of hit-and-run remnants from previous drafts, making for several false endings before the seemingly less compromising ensemble sends audiences home with a smirking chorus of "fuck you" ( ostensibly aimed at the "haters" in the house ).

Soldiering through this array of decorations piled on a script rooted in the conventions of nebbisher-hero Hollywood romcoms are Roy Samra as the ovine-innocent Barney, Maggie Cain and Dixie Lynn Cartwright as motherly Mrs. Claus and dragster Zooey, and Jaron Bellar as a ballet-dancing Santa Junior.

"Holiday traditions" are not self-imposed titles. Now in its fourth year, Renaud and Schmidt's musical burlesque is still evolving from a raunchy romp offering affirmation to its flock to a parable providing instruction to pilgrims seeking deliverance from prejudice and intolerance. More experimentation is necessary, however, before its entrenchment in our cultural calendar is ensured.


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