SOLSTICE: A NEW HOLIDAY ADVENTUREBy Jonathan Norton
Contributions by Janielle Kastner
Directed by Vickie Washington
Co-Directed by Richard T. Quadri
Music, Lyrics, and Musical Direction by Cherish Robinson
Scenic Design by Jeffrey Schmidt
Costume Design by Rhonda Gorman
Lighting Design by Aaron Johansen
Sound Design by Michael Boss
Animation Design by Sid Curtis
Choreography by Danielle Georgiou
Stuart - Paul T. Taylor*
Paulette – M. Denise Lee*
Greg and Leander – Jason R. Villarreal
Misery, Maria, NorthPark Mom #1, and Lola – Marti Etheridge
Riley, Kid, and Miss Nancy Keeper of the Keys – Abby Chapman
Alpher, Christy, NorthPark Mom #2, and The Leaping Hare – Nikka Morton
Johnnie Taylor – Cherish Robinson**
* Member of Actor’s Equity Association
+ Equity membership Candidate
Reviewed Performance: 12/10/2018
Reviewed by Ann Saucer, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
A commanding Marty Etheridge begins and ends this comedic romp by breaking the Fourth Wall. Why are we still in our seats after she has told us – borrowing from A Christmas Carol – that Stuart is dead as a doornail; this must be distinctly understood? The action proceeds from one hilarious scene to another, with Dallas versions of the Christmas Carol Ghosts making their colorful appearances.
Paul T. Taylor utterly charms as the likeable and befuddled Stuart. The play's narrative arc follows his journey from memories of holiday shopping with his beloved late wife Lola to a possible future with the sexy Paulette (aka "the Meals on Wheels Lady"). Is he addicted to hydrocodone or the past? Is he doddering, virile, or Santa? Maybe the answer to all of these questions is Yes, and either way, the possibilities are definitely funny.
The magnificent Denise Lee enchants as Paulette, who has a heart as big as the world. As brilliantly portrayed by Lee, Paulette's sassy optimism makes this production an upbeat fun ride, rather than a scathing satire. Paulette's overly hopeful plans for a romantic evening with Stuart go awry in Pleasant Grove's Crawford Park. Enter the Cluster Flock, a machete-wielding not-a-group whose devotion to opposing the construct of materialism presents a stark alternative to the Xmas shopping crush at North Park. Witty dialogue exposes the difficulty in defining oneself by what you oppose.
To win Paulette's heart, Stuart must compete with Johnnie Taylor (Cherish Robinson). To this end, Stuart has the definite advantage of being alive. Johnnie Taylor is the object of Paulette's sexual fantasies, which include a van and giblet gravy (don't worry about taking the kids; it's tasteful). Robinson gives a gloriously animated, no-holes-barred performance as the seductive singer, who incidentally has excellent arguments for the comparative advantages of imaginary lovers: "Two words – venereal disease." (Great advice, kids; just sayin'). Taking full advantage of the Christmas Carol themed magic, Misery (as played by the ever-talented Etheridge) transports Stuart into Paulette's fantasy world. It is great fun.
In addition to drawing upon the fantasized lothario Johnnie Taylor, Paulette relies upon an encyclopedic knowledge of Law & Order, and comic references to contemporary television are a running gag that really works throughout this play. "Have nineteen seasons of Law & Order SVU taught you nothing?" her exasperated daughter hilariously demands. The sound design enhances the comedy, and theme music is cleverly incorporated into the action.
Nikka Morton shines as Paulette's frustrated daughter Alpher, who must point out the pitfalls of her mother's boundless romantic optimism. A protective Alpher efficiently tracks down Stuart's son (Jason R. Villarreal). Villarreal convinces as a concerned son grappling with the stress of the holidays and his own broken heart.
Booker T Freshman Abby Chapman is perfect as the ice-cream demanding (yet lactose intolerant) granddaughter, and as a forest waif pleading for her first present. In the latter role Chapman breaks into exuberant song. It is a delightful performance showcasing her beautiful voice.
All of the singing is magnificent. Denise Lee's tremendous vocal gifts are always a treat. Villarreal and Morton, as beleaguered adult children, perform a marvelously funny duet on the sweet misery of Xmas shopping.
The costumes illustrate a wide range of styles, including comically garish Christmas sweaters and a sequined Johnnie Taylor. Of the excellent choices, my favorites were in the Ghost of Christmas Future scene, wherein Nancy Nasher and the iconic North Park leaping bunny make their appearances. Have you ever wondered where that rabbit is leaping to? And what will it do when it gets there? Solstice miraculously answers those questions.
In addition to the gorgeous singing and fun laughs, this production delivers an extraordinarily touching explanation of Stuart's inability to enter North Park's Williams-Sonoma (other than the prices). Taylor and Etheridge are phenomenal in a poignant flashback of a spousal exchange between Stuart and his late wife, Lola. For all of the bling and drama in this play, this domestic scene of familial devotion is the most powerful. In this way, Solstice succeeds in illustrating the true meaning of the holiday, jokes notwithstanding.
Sid Curtis does a great job with the animation, which visually shepherds the audience through the characters' travails in Crawford Park, and provides faux-commercials for Johnnie Taylor's Screwing the Oldies album covers during intermission. Do not miss these! They include: Stop Half Loving These Women, The Last Two Dollars, Did Someone Say Giblet Gravy, and much more. These spoofs highlight Johnnie Taylor's wide-ranging musical career. As described in the program's Glossary, Johnnie Taylor was a Dallas DJ who performed in a wide variety of genres.
Jeffrey Schmidt's sets are consistently marvelous, but here he has outdone himself, certainly for comic effect. I was cracking up even before the play started. It is not just North Park, but it's the original section in front of Williams-Sonoma, complete with the bizarre planter-slide thing that looks like a collapsed pyramid. The turtles and ducks are there too. The North Park water feature is unlike any natural habitat for a duck or a turtle, but hey -- it looks expensive.
Solstice is a perfect antidote to shopping travails and holiday stress. It is just the right combination of fun, fantasy, wit, and wisdom. I highly recommend that you treat yourself to this feel-good production.
December 6 through December 30, 2018
2800 Routh Street, #168, Dallas, Teas 75201
For information and Tickets call 214 871 3300 or go to theatre3dallas.com.