The Tipping Point Theatre outdid itself for its first production truly in the round. Daniel C. Walker's set design gave the impression of dozens of entrances, including some on raised platforms visible from every seat. (Overheard from the audience: "I hope that's sturdy.") This ingenuity, and the creative staging on and around it, helped keep the action lively in Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!).
The plot is right there in the title: Three actors (Dave Davies, Michael Brian Ogden, and Jeff Thomakos), dissatisfied with doing A Christmas Carol for the umpteenth year, instead attempt to bring the entire Christmas experience to the stage in ninety minutes. The result is a whirlwind of word play and sight gags, infused with a few solemn moments. This is the first production of Every Christmas Story I have seen, so I can't distinguish old from new (as implied by the added "and then some"), but I can say that the play was at its most enjoyable when hitting close to home. Whereas interpretations of the Grinch and Rudolph stories were essentially truncated — but faithful — restagings of beloved holiday classics, the exquisite parody of Detroit's annual Thanksgiving day parade was both innovative and side-splitting. A few points of lull were smoothed over by the sense of speed: hold on, you'll like the next part.
There are advantages to being the Rogue, chief among them that I am for the moment working undercover. An unintended side effect is that I was made a part of the action at the performance I attended; I apologize to the actors if they feel misled. The play relies heavily on audience members willing (or, in some cases, unwilling) to call out suggestions or interact with the performers when asked. As many people come to the theater for a passive experience, requests for participation are often rebuffed; the maneuver is not always executed well. Perhaps this cast's greatest achievement is establishing the feeling of safety and camaraderie that made the audience game to take part.
The ensemble worked well in both scripted sections and clearly unscripted asides. Under the direction of Matt Foss, Davies brought the enthusiasm of a simpleton believer, Ogden committed to some wild physical comedy, and Thomakos balanced them out as a classic-phile curmudgeon with a keen, albeit inconsistent, Jimmy Stewart impression. The sound design by Bethany Hedden happily featured live accompaniment by the designer herself.
This production of Every Christmas Story holds up simply as a play. As a Christmas experience — complete with staff in holiday sweaters offering hot cider during intermission — it's a fine choice for unshakable Christmas lovers equally as much as for those seeking respite from holiday overexposure.