Funniest Christmas Play You Will Ever See Running at Next Act

Joe, Doug Jarecki, proposes to the Virgin Mary, Sara Zientek

A carpenter named Joe walks into the Nazareth tavern, nervous about this date that is a fix-up.

Sitting in a chair, clutching a white afghan over her tummy, sits the very pretty Mary. It’s her first blind date.

He introduces himself as Joe the carpenter. She replies she is called the Virgin Mary.

“Cool nickname,” he says. Joe is lovestruck immediately and proposes to Mary. She says yes, and then Joe finds out she’s eight months pregnant. Joe tries to understand the immaculate conception thing, and once he’s convinced there is no other man, they marry.

The sweet and stirring moment when they agree to go ahead with the wedding could only come from the sweet and stirring mind of Doug Jarecki

Mr. Jarecki debuted his “‘Twas the Month Before Christmas” two years ago to rave reviews and wild audience acclaim. It’s back again, running at Next Act Theatre and opening night the show proved to be at least just as funny and maybe with an added touch of sweetness.

Collaborating with the wonderful direction of James Fletcher, Mr. Jarecki has tightened some of the first version of the play while never losing the humor, some obvious and some subtle, that makes this show the best holiday show in town.

He’s got a sparkling cast of himself, Mitch Weindorf, John Cramer, Lindsey Gagliano and the spectacular and continually amazing Sara Zientek as a multi-layered Mary, and Mr. Fletcher has guided them into a cohesive and well-timed ensemble.

There is, of course, a thread that runs through the whole show – the impending birth of Jesus Christ. Three kings are going to Bethlehem via Nazareth and Persia, an innkeeper and his daughter are working hard to fill the inn, which is built right in front of their ramshackle manger (get it?), and two servants, one of whom has the hots for one of the kings.

The various journeys are full of moments of wild hilarity.

Joe and Mary are getting ready to head to Bethlehem and they’re having a conversation about why Joseph feels so out of it., ignored in all the excitement.,

“It’s the whole immaculate conception thing,” he complains to Mary. “And now it’s the name thing.”

“We can’t name him Henry,” Mary says, rejecting Joseph’s suggestion. “We can’t call him Henry Christ. (She pauses) But we could use it as a middle name.”

Joseph thinks it over.

“Jesus H. Christ,” he shouts. “I love it.”

They exit and we are then greeted to the three kings, Melchior (Mr. Jarecki), Gaspar (Mr. Weindorf) and Balthasar (Mr. Cramer). They enter like unhinged cheerleaders.

“Let me hear you Persia,”Mr.  Jarecki shouts as he runs around the stage. “C’mon Persia. Let’s do the wave.” And the wave gets done.

The three kings discuss the difficulty Gaspar is having getting together with his slave, Helen. In order to help him get in touch with his feelings Melchior suggests a road trip.

“Bethlehem,” he shouts. “Here we come.”

Sara Zientek the overloaded servant follows Doug Jarecki to Bethlehem

Each of the kings is determined to bring a gift. Melchior will bring gold. Balthasar is bringing frankincense. Gasbar announces he’s bringing myrrh, sending the other two kings into stitches.

“Myrrh,” Melchior shouts. “Myrrh? That’s the incense they use at funerals to cover up the stench of dead bodies. It’s corpse deodorizer.”

Eventually, of course, we get a baby and all’s well that ends well.

This play is a classic example of how wonderful humor can be when it’s done well.

This is not salacious or suggestive humor. It’s a gentle humor that pokes gentle fun at a story that is holy for Christians. Some of the jokes are obvious, but that only adds to the enjoyment of the evening.

Mr. Jarecki has put together a great cast and a very clever play that got laughs from beginning to end.Mr.  Fletcher directed with a very steady and seasoned hand, making all the transitions and costume changes as smooth as a Jarecki joke.

I can hardly wait for next Christmas to see this again, and the only suggestion I’d offer is that he take the first scene at the inn and tighten it up a bit to keep the laughs going.

In addition, I can hardly wait for next March when Mr. Jarecki debuts and new play, “One Night in Poland.”

There are are lots of choices for theater this holiday season, but if you are looking for a holy and laugh-filled story with the kind of sweet moments that make the humor even funnier, then this is the one to pick.

“‘Twas the Month Before Christmas” only runs until December 23. Santa says stop wrapping. Go see it.

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About davebegel@gmail.com

Theater Critic in Milwaukee.
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