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Just as it is erroneously assumed each summer that everyone’s brain suddenly turns to mush and we therefore all require something called “light reading” for the beach, each December it is de rigueur that we must be inundated with theatrical fare that panders to obligatory Yuletide sentimentalism.
The oddnik among this season’s dozen or so offerings of this ilk is the reprise of Drew McCreadie’s Hotel Bethlehem—and thank no god for that. As capably directed by Ruby Slippers artistic director Diane Brown, Hotel Bethlehem stands out like Rudolph’s red, shiny nose. Let it lead the Christmas slate every year.
Channelling Basil Fawlty, John Murphy, always talking too loud and too fast, has no difficulty portraying a thoroughly dislikeable innkeeper who must outwit two nitwit Roman soldiers and hoodwink a blind census taker. Gili Roskies shines as his delightfully lascivious maid, Mary.
The other famous Mary (who is mentioned precious little in the Bible), the one who did that virgin birth thing, never appears, and neither does her Lamb of God offspring. There is room at the Hotel Bethlehem, however, for three wise men, one of whom is flamingly gay, one of whom tries to be serious, and one of whom inexplicably goes into a violent, sleep-walking trance.
After skeptically querying this star-following trio from the Orient as to why three wealthy monarchs would undertake an arduous journey without servants, the scheming innkeeper inveigles them to participate in his phoney Jewish festival of forgetting called Rosh Slosh Gebosh. The innkeeper hopes to get the Roman guards sufficiently drunk so that they won’t remember to crucify him.
If necessary, the innkeeper’s frisky consort Mary might have to provide some special room service for the bumbling census taker. Meanwhile, a shepherd is looking for a quiet place for his ewe to have a water birth. One of the rooms stinks to high heaven because it was occupied by a smelly fishmonger…
All of which is just plain silly. Silly enough to make us appreciate the extent to which the Nativity story is also ridiculous. The Roman soldiers have too much dialogue, the lack of virgins in Bethlehem is mentioned at least five times and the ending is lame, but there’s a lovely chase scene in underwear, some of the physical comedy verges on Three Stooges mayhem and we ultimately leave the theatre chuckling at the sheer audaciousness of it all.
This most welcome balm of outrageous whimsy is highlighted by the performances of Scott Bellis and Alex Diakun as two shepherds who wonder why they are not called sheep herders. The philosophical banter of these two rustics might fall flat with lesser talents. And when Bellis does double duty as a one-toothed fishmonger, it’s worth the price of admission.
Atheists unite. You have nothing to lose but your billboards.
by Paul Durras