Christmas

‘Civil War Christmas’: many moving parts

Artists Rep's holiday show brings American history to life and brings a fresh approach to classic carols

Why, when we think of “classics,” and especially “Christmas classics,” do we gravitate toward Great Britain? Of course that region’s written history extends further into the past, and their Pagan traditions have seeded many of our modern holiday expressions, from mistletoe to the Christmas tree. Of course most of our best-known carols hail from Britain—and one in particular, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, rules the winter theater. All of these yuletide flourishes are a tough act to follow, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Surely there are other stories, American stories, that can offer moral authority and spiritual enlightenment at Christmas time.

Vin Shambry, with Crystal Ann Muñoz in background. Photo: Owen Carey

Vin Shambry, with Crystal Ann Muñoz in background. Photo: Owen Carey

A Civil War Christmas, Artists Rep’s holiday offering, is many degrees removed from Scrooge, skipping across the pond to the banks of the Potomac River in 1864, near the end of the Civil War. As historical fiction, the play certainly passes muster, proving (as Hamilton has) that American history runs Britain plenty of competition when it comes to inspirational characters, interesting dialects and fluffy blouses.

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“A lot of theaters do this show looking very French 1950s, with lots of pink and gold,” remarked Bag&Baggage artistic director Scott Palmer at Sunday’s talkback post-Parfumerie.

And why wouldn’t they? The title suggests Frenchness, elegance, and putting on airs (wink), and the various rebrands the play has inspired—You’ve Got Mail, She Loves Me, The Shop around the Corner—are certainly warm and schmaltzy enough to countenance a general pink-and-gold glow.

But B&B’s version, taking a textual cue from Miklos Laszlo’s original play set in 1930s Budapest, plays it a little cooler and deeper, not just with an austere and neutral set, but with characters taking a few beats between quips for silent contemplation. Considering that comparatively few of the script’s lines are devoted to perfume or toiletries, and many more are directed at the complexities of business and personal relationships and a frank assessment of life goals, I submit to future producers yet another fresh title for the same fare, complete with a retail pun: “Taking Stock.”

A humming retail environment holds contains this charming split narrative that's less about perfume than it is about personal lives.

A humming retail environment contains this charming comedy that’s less about perfume than it is about personal lives.

“Wake up! Your life has passed you by!”

“Do you think I’m doing the right thing?…There’s always just a shadow of a doubt.”

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By LILY HUDSON

Every Christmas movie is set during the holidays, but not every movie set during Christmas is a holiday film. The action movie Die Hard has the most popular reputation as a holiday-film-that’s-really-not, an antidote to saccharine annual standards, a Christmas movie for people who don’t actually like Christmas movies (Zack Handlen offered up the term “Christmas-adjacent”). Here is a not-too-festive selection of worthwhile films that serve up only a faint flavor of the holidays.

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