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I prefer a blue Christmas, thank you
"But sad things aren't the same as depressing things. I must be getting old. I like them." Thornton Wilder's The Long Christmas Dinner
Is it really that strange to ache for a little bittersweet pain instead of the same old sentiment this holiday season? Don't get me wrong. I'm not screaming "Christmas carols make me puke!" like the foul-mouthed Scrooge in Christopher Durang's Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge, but I am probably the last person you should consult when choosing between Elf and Holiday Inn. With all due respect to the magic of musicals, all that manufactured glee just frays my nerves right now. Why shouldn't I feel mildly depressed? What's wrong with a true "Blue Christmas" once in a while?
So this year, you can have your Coney Island Christmas, your Santaland Diaries, and your It's a Wonderful (One Man Show) Life. I'm holding out for a revival of The Mutilated -- Tennessee Williams' over-the-top screaming match about two middle-aged rageaholics in search of inner peace and a bottle of Tokay on Christmas Eve. Yes, it's nasty and outrageous and filled with self-loathing. But am I really the only one out there who wants to see two alcoholic frenemies undergo a spiritual awakening?
Actually, the most honest depiction of Christmas that I've ever seen onstage, in terms of reflecting my own childhood experience, is a play that most people wouldn't deem a Christmas show at all: A Doll's House. Though rarely discussed in such terms, Ibsen's classic indeed takes place right before Christmas and is suffused with tensions around gift giving, budget balancing, and surreptitious snacking. (In many translations, the first line begins "Hide the Christmas tree…") Looked at from that perspective, I don't know if Nora would've left Torvald if their troubles hadn't surfaced in December. Personally, I never wondered why she left him. I only wondered why my mother stayed!
I guess what works for me most about A Doll's House is that Christmas is the backdrop, not the focal point. As an adult, I've never been one to get caught up in tree trimming and stocking stuffing. In fact, the best Christmas I ever spent was alone in an unfurnished apartment where I listened to a tape of a likely medicated Anne Sexton intone "I have gone out, a possessed witch, haunting the black air, braver at night; dreaming evil, I have done my hitch over the plain houses, light by light." Talk about a Santa metaphor!
So trot out the angst-ridden absurdities of Harry Kondoleon's Christmas on Mars, the misfit lovers of Beth Henley's The Lucky Spot, the disenchanted puppets in Paula Vogel's The Long Christmas Ride Home, and even the melancholic twins -- reminiscing over three Christmases, no less -- in Adrienne Kennedy's moody June and Jean in Concert. Our greatest playwrights have been telling us ugly truths about Christmas for decades. This year, bring them on. There's something powerful in being moved, in being scared, in being sad. It can cause you to take stock of your own life in a way that happiness and escapism can't.