“Fuck Broadway. The real show is here, on this avenue,” says struggling poet Adam Manduwksi in My Christmas in New York, an improvisational play on at Théâtre Ste. Catherine. Set on East 27th and 2nd Avenue and peppered with impromptu acting, a colourful cast brings to life a vision of the holidays alternately bleak and comical.
“I don’t like the type of theatre that is like ‘Sit down, shut up and watch us, we have memorized the script,’” explains Alain Mercieca, creator of the show. “I like to say My Christmas in New York is theatre for people who don’t like theatre.” The play retells Mercieca’s experience selling Christmas trees in New York three years ago. From drunk bum Mad Dog to love interest Bianca, from eccentric Texan Marilyn to a meth addict whose violent contortions threaten to rip her right off the stage, every character brings a unique flavor to the show.
“This story is almost entirely true,” Adam says at the outset of the play. Drug addicts sleep under the Christmas trees at night, and passersby steal trees without remorse. A complete stranger gives away a box of classic jazz music, and a protected suburban teenager opts to grow up on the street.
There’s a lot going on in this show (perhaps too much), and actors double as many characters. What would otherwise be unbearably cheesy clichés come off as acceptable in part due to the small scale of the production. “We only said ‘Merry Christmas’ when we made a sale,” Adam says with a shake of the head — cue the faint and weepy tones of “So This is Christmas” in the background.
But it works, in its own strange way. Perhaps the reason we can accept such a lack of contrition for its cheesiness is because My Christmas in New York is painfully honest. Manduwski is the self-described “socialist artist”, contrasted with his “capitalist pig” partner Charlot. The streets of New York are painted with alternating hope and gloom. Dressed in a bulky winter jacket and speaking with a humdrum matter-of-factness, Mercieca plays Adam with an odd mixture of cynicism and naivete. What is required, after all, to get up on a stage and tell a three-year-old story, the intimate details of one’s life, without a rock-solid script or even a proper program? At what point does confessional theatre become just a masturbatory excuse for autobiography?
Some will prefer more structured Nutcracker-style holiday cheer. My Christmas in New York may in fact be simply an exercise in personal narrative, an opportunity to tell a “true story” to whoever will listen. But at Christmas time, there reigns a spirit of acceptance, and while not your usual fare, My Christmas in New York undoubtedly captures something of the holiday spirit.
Featuring TJ Harris, Sandi Armstrong, Simon Chavarie, Joe McLean, Alain Mercieca, Catherine Moreau, Vincent Dow, Jacqueline Sawatsky and Glyn Jones. My Christmas in New York plays through December 19th at Nouveau Théâtre Ste. Catherine. Tickets, $15, $12 reduced, $10 group rate. Details: 514-284-3939. See trailer on YouTube.