Not your typical dose of holiday cheer

The Christmas season has arrived, and so has the Studio Theatre’s newest holiday offering, “The Long Christmas Ride Home” by Paula Vogel. However, Vogel’s play is far from your typical feel-good Christmas story. “The Long Christmas Ride Home” centers around a dysfunctional family trying desperately to keep up the fa?ade of a happy family on one of the most magical days of the year, Christmas.

The family consists of a cheating husband, unfulfilled mother, sexually confused son, sexually frustrated teenage daughter and an impressionable favorite daughter. On the surface, this family may seem ideal, but once given an inside look at the family’s inner thoughts, it becomes clear that each member of the family is dealing with serious issues. Desperately trying to fit the mold of the ideal family, the characters plunge themselves deeper into the situations they are trying to escape.

The audience is taken along on the family’s Christmas ride to church and later to their grandparents’ house. Throughout the story, the audience becomes more entrenched in the problems the family faces as it attempts to achieve the perfect Christmas and indeed, the perfect life. Later, the audience is allowed a glimpse into the children’s lives once they have grown up. This glimpse displays the impact an unhappy childhood has had on the adult lives of the son and daughters.

“The Long Christmas Ride Home” uses many different tactics to portray its story to audiences. The utilization of puppetry is certainly the most obvious of devices used, and it results in a visually interesting production. Although the use of puppets may generate a childlike image, in the case of “The Long Christmas Ride Home” their purpose is quite the opposite. The puppets are not used to enhance the childlike wonder of the Christmas holiday, but rather maintain the simplicity of the setting and the overall performance.

The play is further enhanced by the author’s inclusion of a Japanese component. Initially, this aspect of the performance seemed out of place, but once immersed in the action on stage, this cultural theme adds an interesting and beautiful aspect to an otherwise dark work. Throughout the play there is decorative Japanese-style music that enhances the performance of the actors without pulling the focus away from the essential elements of the story.

With such dark themes at work within the play, the simplistic qualities of the setting and costumes allow the audience to focus on the actors’ performances rather than an elaborate backdrop. The set consists of several benches that act as the family car with Christmas lights overhead. The costumes follow the simplistic theme and are not meant to overshadow the dramatic qualities of the play.

The actors should be commended for the moving performances each of them give. The father, played by Paul L. Nolan, gives an exceptional performance mixing sarcastic humor with troubled inner thoughts. The intimate setting of the Studio Theatre allows the audience to have an up-close-and-personal experience with the actors and become totally immersed in the story.

This play is enjoyable, and I found value in the use of traditional holiday themes to tell a story that is far from the typical holiday fare. Yet, “The Long Christmas Ride Home” comes with a cautionary recommendation; if you’re looking for a thought-provoking and different dramatic work, check out Studio Theatre’s newest project. If a feel-good Christmas story is what you seek, try looking elsewhere. n

The Long Christmas Ride Home is running at the Studio Theatre until Dec. 31 with performances taking place every day, including an evening and matinee performance on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets range from $39 to $50 and can be obtained by calling the box office, (202) 332-3300, or ordering online at www.studiotheatre.org. .

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