Angels Unwrapped

a time of year ostensibly devoted to peace and goodwill, it's brusquely refreshing to take a walk on the dark side. The result of an in-house playwright's workshop, this anthology of five one-acts challenges, dissects, and, yes, even mocks those qualities that are supposedly the reason for the season. Varied in quality though they may be, these pieces collectively achieve a theatrical goal rarely met by forcing an examination of personal beliefs and devotion to mankind. All is not well near the North Pole. In Madge Storm Beletsky's The Reindeer and the Snowman, a depressed Frosty (Dean Farell Bruggeman) tends bar in an airport cocktail lounge while pining, a la Pinocchio, to become human. Rudolph (Todd Johnson) appears with a dark secret of his own, and the two spin a surrealistically philosophical dance accompanied by a trio of Vulcan-eared, demoniac elves serving as Greek chorus. Director Aaron Henney achieves modest success as he struggles with Beletsky's sometimes tangential storyline of lost innocence. In Outlaws, three sisters-in-law pull off the ultimate in familial reunions. As Cathy, the housekeeping host of the event, Polly Tolonen is a storm of cleanliness. Her more relaxed yet controlling counterparts, Kelli Klein and Lee Oliver Boyd, balance John Frank's script admirably until director Johnny Klein's gasp-inducing surprise twist. Revelation of plot points would be unfair, but, suffice it say, the ending is a case of "just desserts." Concluding Act One is Bill Hyatt's Christmas in Chechnya, an unrelentingly harsh slice of inhumanity. Set among a group of Russian soldiers, this depiction of man's descent from optimistic devotion through unwilling perversion into a void of feeling is not for the faint of heart. Director Dan Rosenblatt expertly crafts a disturbing view into souls both blackened by and combating hate. Kudos to John Nielsen, Marvin Solomon, Corey Manuel, and Avner Garbi for bringing these characters so fully to life. Playwright/director John Dubiel's Secret Santa poignantly visits an uncomfortably abbreviated office Christmas party. A near faux pas in gift exchanges results not in disaster but in budding love for new employee Dave and his boss Shelly, played with brilliant subtlety by Russell Towne and Monica Himmelheber. Finally comes Angela Kang's somewhat stilted update of The Little Match Girl. Jessica Wright's Evie, a pathetically gaunt underage prostitute, attempts to capture moments of deliverance by lighting devotional candles. With Glenn L. Hendricks' lighting design at its finest, this piece's visual images would have been an even more compelling conclusion to the evening had it been performed sans dialogu