Christmas Onstage 

Three new productions offer holiday entertainment.

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Plan-B Theatre Co.

Working retail during the holidays can be tough. Throw in underemployment, income inequality, job insecurity and debt, and it's a recipe for extremely unhappy employees. Their strife—caused by angry shoppers and awful bosses—is, at least, entertaining for audiences watching Plan-B Theatre's production of Booksmart, written by Rob Tennant and directed by Jerry Rapier.

Set the week before Christmas in a chain bookstore, it follows disgruntled employee Casey (Tyson Baker) as he starts a revolution against working such a menial job—even if it does, barely, pay the bills. His co-workers Alex (Sarah Danielle Young), Cindy (Anne Louise Brings), Ruth (April Fossen) and Ed (Joe Crnich) just want to take a quick break and escape from rude shoppers—especially Ruth, who may not have a job by the end of the day. Instead, Casey tries to convince them to join his thoughtless cause.

While the ensemble does go through some unpleasant situations with customers—told via one-sided phone conversations—there isn't as much misery as expected. More extreme stories seemed to be foreshadowed by Tennant's dialogue. Still, the cast embodies the stress of the season working in retail. Fossen, in particular, steals the show; her sarcastic, biting tone is rather refreshing matched up against the jolliness of the season.

Booksmart is amusing and relatable. Anyone who's ever worked retail, especially during the holidays, will empathize. (Missy Bird)
Plan-B Theatre Co.
Rose Wagner Center
138 W. 300 South
Dec. 3-13
All performances sold out at press time/wait list only : $20

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It Happened One Christmas
Pioneer Theatre Co.
For many people, no more is needed from a holiday show than bringing together beloved Christmas songs and cozying up to the spirit of the season. And It Happened One Christmas delivers exactly that.

Yet, there's also something peculiar about the way this brand-new musical revue mixes its ingredients. The organizing premise suggests an abandoned Salt Lake City theater from the turn of the century, and a legend that the energy of its performances can magically insure a healthy dose of Christmas snow. And there's no question that the energy is here, as a terrific ensemble moves through spirited choreography, familiar Christmas carols and even leading an audience-participation sing-along of "The 12 Days of Christmas."

What's missing, at times, is a sense that the framing narrative means anything. While the segments are individually entertaining—including some that showcase a charming group of child performers—it can be jarring when a German-language performance of "O Tannenbaum" leads directly into a hip-hop interpretation of "Joy to the World," or when the Gospel story of Jesus' birth immediately precedes Rent's "Seasons of Love."

Christmas performances can be presented with such a tradition-bound sameness that it feels Grinchy not to embrace unreservedly something that takes risks and offers such unconventional choices, including Christian hymns and scripture rather than strictly secular material, and an emotionally resonant reading of "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus" by Howard Kaye. It Happened One Christmas certainly has the nerve to try presenting a program with a little something for everyone—even if some of those somethings aren't always ideal partners when they're side by side. (Scott Renshaw)
Pioneer Theatre Co.
300 S. 1400 East
Dec. 4-19

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Art Dog
Sometimes going to the theater is as much about the experience as a whole than the production itself. Such is the case with Salt Lake Acting Company's Art Dog, written by John Olive and directed by Penelope Caywood. This play is really geared toward children, and SLAC makes it obvious. Children's artwork is featured in a gallery-like setting; each weekend, a dog from Intermountain Dog Therapy roams the lobby; and there are delicious cookies for sale. Children are taught a dance prior to the show and can ask questions at the end. It's a fantastic opportunity for kids to experience live theater.

Luckily, Art Dog is also entertaining for all ages. The story follows Arthur (Alexis Baigue, pictured), a watchdog at the Dogopolis Museum of Art by day, and the mysterious Art Dog by night. When two thieves (Jaten Lee McGriff and Jenessa Bowen) steal the museum's most prized piece of art—the Mona Woofa—the museum director (Olivia Custodio) accuses Art Dog of being the culprit. Art Dog has to prove his innocence, catch the real criminals and find the Mona Woofa.

The acting is silly and exaggerated, which is perfect for a children's production, and the actors take on funny canine characteristics. Art Dog has humor, heart and a sense of wonder which will resonate with children and get them interested in the theater arts. (MB)
Salt Lake Acting Co.
168 W. 500 North
Dec. 4-23
$25/adults $15/children

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