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DID MR. GRINCHLY STEAL CHRISTMAS, OR WHAT?

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Grinchly wants to steal Christmas. He tries. He would if he could but he can't because Susan won't let him. In a nutshell that's the gist and the message of this loose-jointed, freewheeling, light-hearted riff on the Yuletide experience. Mean as it tries to be, it's jolly because Thomas Andonian and John Scoular, who wrote it, evidently are intrinsically jolly guys at heart.

The fable begins as Michael Reilly Burke, narrator (and playwright's surrogate), seized by an onslaught of creative inspiration, interrupts his morning ablutions to tear downstairs and attack his typewriter. After pages torn out, crumpled up, and cast aside (writers always do this onstage), he delivers what we see before us: a seasonal romp with dialogue in rhymed couplets. Molière did it, so do Scoular and Andonian—though their couplets have more in common with Dr. Seuss than M. Molière.

Puppeteer Burke manipulates his literary puppets intently: Megan Molloy's Veronica and Jennifer Kwantes' Trish are lush, lissome Melrose Avenue babes, blonde, beautiful, trendy, and radiant from a shopping spree, the sugarplums in this Christmas concoction. All sweetness, purity, and light, their roommate Susan (Sarah Bibb) is the angel atop the tree. (A wistful little tree decorating the girls' apartment, however, is smaller than Charlie Brown's.)

Joe Basile, as grouchy neighbor Grinchly, takes a stab at looking and behaving like the macho meanie he's supposed to be. He wears workman's clothes and a stocking cap to cover a pate bald as an egg. Sebastian Tillinger, as Grinchly's roomie and minion Max, is got up to look pretty scruffy, and he's not the brightest ornament on the tree, but there's a subtle something about him that's ingratiating and attractive—maybe his smile. Susan falls for him on sight. It's mutual, as Brian Horn's "Max and Susan's Theme" makes clear. The show's other big number is Jeff McDonough's "Grinchly Groove."

Terpsichoreans Keny Alden and T. Ashanti Mozelle keep popping up to groove and carry on. It would be a terrible pity if they didn't; they're cool cats whose every move is a delight. Choreography by Katie Miller amusingly combines Riverdance and flamenco. Makeup design, outstanding for the babes, is by Kirk Mills; he knows what he's doing. Credit-worthy costumes, great for the babes, are uncredited. Co-writer Scoular directs his work, promising and delivering a show like British pantomimes, with "no unpleasant side effects." Grinchly steals all the presents but can't douse the Christmas cheer, because Susan is such a Pollyanna she sees the good in everyone—even Grinchly. Smiles are bright and hearts are light as all sing "Silent Night."

This good-natured, intermission-free holiday perennial has been around since 1992. The only improvement I can suggest is: It could be a bit shorter. I liked its spirit.

"Did Mr. Grinchly Steal Christmas, or What?," presented by One Ear Dog Frog Productions at the Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood. Nov. 29-Dec. 23. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. $15. (213) 368-6436

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