'Tis the season for debating crucial questions about holiday celebrations. Egg nog, or Tom & Jerrys? Real tree, or artificial? Bing, or Mariah? And, perhaps most contentious of all: is Die Hard a Christmas movie?
Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater
$15/$18 at the door
A Very Die Hard Christmas, a rambunctious show that's now in its sixth year blowing up the Bryant-Lake Bowl, makes absolutely certain that question is answered in the affirmative. Writer Josh Carson and director Brad Erickson have taken the 1988 action classic and tossed it into a blender with just about every major commercial Christmas entertainment.
The result is a rollicking satire of not just Die Hard, but of the seasonal zoo that crowds our eyes and ears each December. The pop culture references fly as furiously as the show's innumerable imagined bullets, and the cast won't slow down for you to catch them all. (Okay, sometimes they will.)
John McClane is the role Carson was born to play, scowling and rolling his tongue around his mouth like he's trying to catch a fly in there. When a group of histrionic Germans break into his wife's L.A. work party, Carson throws his half-naked dad-bod into fearless action, ready to get pummeled in a fistfight or walk barefoot across broken glass to save the day. In the process, he goes from bleeding to bloody to Kool-Aid Man.
As McClane's antagonist, Matt Sciple delivers a performance that's an affectionate Alan Rickman homage, even if the script makes fun of the unmistakable British-ness of Hans Gruber's German accent. In a flaming red '80s wig that's halfway between Bonnie Bedelia and Aileen Quinn, Anna Weggel-Reed plays McClane's wife Holly, who's losing interest in the outrageously coked-up advances of her coworker Linus (Andy Rocco Kraft).
Yes, Linus, and yes, he has something to tell us about the true meaning of Christmas. Other holiday characters show up in puppet form, starting with a holly jolly snowman cop who narrates the show. Kraft also handles that character, but his real pièce de résistance is Hermey, the paramilitary elf who just wants to be a dentist.
The action often pauses for the characters to deliver songs from the holiday canon, cleverly adapted and performed with brio. Not just the old chestnuts, either: Carson incorporates millennial favorites from The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and even Jim Carrey's godforsaken Grinch. The surly Germans review their plans to the tune of the Chipmunks' Christmas song ("Okay, Karl? Karl? Karl!"), and a priceless Leslie Vincent gets down on her knees as lil' Lucy McClane to offer her daddy some much-needed "Christmas Shoes."
The best BLB shows treat the small theater as a playground, and A Very Die Hard Christmas is certainly among the best. The tireless cast know they have winning material, and they swing into it with gusto — adding some fun special effects. That said, the lack of onstage diversity is a disappointment: one that will hopefully be remedied if the show returns for another riotous run.
Even Carson seemed surprised at the healthy turnout on Thursday, given the competition. Looking around the room with a grin, he asked, "Don't you guys know there's a fucking Star Wars movie out now?" Sorry, Kylo Ren: to borrow a line from the play's advertising, it's just not Christmas until Hans Gruber falls off Nakatomi Plaza.