Editor's note: Christmas is all about fighting—at dinner, in shopping lines, over holiday trees at the airport. But you can tell Jesus is winning the War on Christmas because all the holiday theater (some good, most bad) is still about Santa, Scrooge, and the Little Nazarene That Could. When Hanukkah and Kwanzaa get crappy plays of their own, we'll add them to the fray. Until then—it's a Christmastime punch-out!
It's a Wonderful Life
In a brawl, would: drool, die.
Though I am nearly 100 years old, I was the youngest person in the room at this stage adaptation of Frank Capra's hoary holiday chestnut by a pretty broad margin, so it's not exactly fair to imagine this show in a brawl. Come at It's a Wonderful Life unawares, and you're likely to induce cardiac arrest. The conceit (a reading of a radio play of the film script, set in 1947) is corny but cute, the cast is game (Andrew Litzky is particularly resplendent in the multicharacter vocal antics, but everyone is excellent), and all the angel stuff gives Taproot a good excuse to drop a little Christian science, as they invariably must. Still, one closes one's eyes during the show and can only see the film's glory burned in the retinas—only Jimmy Stewart sounds like Grant Goodeve. I still cried, though. At the memory of the movie. That's how good it still is. And it's playing at the Grand Illusion, just like it does every year. For 5 bucks. As opposed to $20. I'm just saying. (Taproot Theatre) SEAN NELSON
The Judy Garland Christmas Special
In a brawl, would: shoot the piano player.
This is an imaginary dress rehearsal for Judy Garland's doomed 1963 television Christmas special. Garland, played by Andrew Tasakos, drinks and snarls her way through loathsome Christmas television treacle. It doesn't have as much to do with the holidays as it does with the frightening fantasies of her drink-addled mind, but there's terrifically bad singing, comically inept dancing, and Garland shoots Santa dead, making it my favorite Christmas play this year. You'll leave feeling drunk, abused, and forgotten—just like Liza! (Open Circle Theater) PAUL CONSTANT
The Dina Martina Christmas Show
In a brawl, would: blind you with a handful of confetti to the face, only the confetti's been dipped in acid—not sulfuric, but lysergic.
Making a mockery of everything that's good and true while simultaneously infusing its audience with something close to "the holiday spirit," the Dina Martina Christmas Show is a Christmas miracle. Spawned from the cracked skull of Grady West, Dina is a singing, dancing, storytelling, and completely talent-free tornado—a comic creation as sturdy and seamless as Pee Wee Herman infused with the trashy blood of John Waters, and more reliably hilarious than those two sickos ever were. Dina's Christmas shows are the stuff of legend, and this year's is prime, packed with bastardized carols, upsetting puppets, and videos that will make beer shoot out of your nose. Resistance is futile. (Re-bar) DAVID SCHMADER
In a brawl, would: hide in a corner.
Apart from a throwaway line about Thanksgiving dinner, this pair of two-man one-act plays is entirely free of holiday themes—but they've been begging for a review. Merry Christmas, boys. Up first is Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter, the story of two hit men holed up in the dumbwaiter-equipped basement of a Birmingham boarding house. Beau Prichard, as a Cockney slob, is endearing, but his partner, Luke S. Walker, distracts us with his unrelenting snorts and sighs and hisses. Interrogation, by Prichard, is bland post-9/11 agitprop in the guise of a TV cop show. It's okay. (Odd Duck Theater) ANNIE WAGNER
A Child's Christmas in Wales
In a brawl, would: cute its enemies to death.
One half hour of 12 kiddies and two adults reciting and acting out the excellent Dylan Thomas poem, complete with flubbed lines, hot cider, scratchy violins, actors both exuberant and shy, and a dozen other irreproducibly cute, homey touches. Plus, the poem is great: "There were the Useful Presents: engulfing mufflers of the old coach days, and mittens made for giant sloths... and books that told me everything about the wasp, except why." It's a tiny show in a tiny space, but it's the best, least contrived, most stake-of-holly-to-your-heart Christmas show yet. (Stone Soup Theatre) BRENDAN KILEY
Voices of Christmas
In a brawl, would: suck harder than you've ever seen anything suck before.
You know what's the best thing about Christmas? Making fun of cheap Jews. Oy vey! Know what's even better? Making fun of cheap Jews and calling it diversity. But do you know what else I love about the yuletide season? Listening to somebody's gay cousins and matronly aunts warble heartwarming modern Christmas tunes in front of thousands of poinsettias in a theater that smells like farts. And it's so festive when a goofy Asian guy (he sure is ethnic!) dresses up like a Mexican gangster and teaches the choir how to get funky on "Go Tell It on the Mountain." It's totally like Sister Act 2, except more Asian, and less watchable! (ArtsWest) LINDY WEST
The Santaland Diaries
In a brawl, would: steal a bottle of whiskey, slip out the back door.
Listening to David Sedaris's Christmas experiences in Macy's as an elf named Crumpet is a bracing curative for all the sap that flows so freely this time of year. That nasal whine, those glorious wait-for-it pauses, that quirky ability to bring out the comedy in despair and vice versa are all present here. And at a slim 70 minutes, it's a perfect length for sobering up between holiday parties. (The Bathhouse Theater) CHRIS MCCANN
In a brawl, would: start speaking in tongues.
It's the foot-stompingest, hand-clappingest, sing-alongingest Christmas show ever. The first half is a singing, dancing rendition of Langston Hughes's Black Nativity, but the dance seems ripped out of 1969: a multiculti stew of ballet, modern, and African that is too everything to be anything. The second half, a tour through black American religious music with a brief nod to the secular blues, sung by the Total Experience Gospel Choir with some preaching by the Reverend Dr. Samuel B. McKinney, is fierce and refreshing. (Intiman Theatre) BRENDAN KILEY
In a brawl, would: get drunk, tell you it wishes it had had an abortion, write you out of the will, start crying and eat a whole pie.
This dusty old-timer is about how great it is to help others and fall in love and play in the snow with your happy fucking family. (5th Avenue Theatre) LINDY WEST
In a brawl, would: send an army of 8-year-olds, led by a rat king, to eviscerate its foes.
Any one of the buff, ambitious, mind-bogglingly flexible 8-year-olds in the Pacific Northwest Ballet could kick the pansy ass of any other performer, and in The Nutcracker, they also have strength in numbers. There are dozens of them, not to mention a 20-foot rat king, four cannons, a dancing monkey monster, a whip-wielding sultan, and a veritable army of toy soldiers with tight muscles and even tighter velvet pants. The pure brute force and distractingly well-defined bodies of The Nutcracker cast will dominate any other Christmas pageantry that stands in its way. (Pacific Northwest Ballet) SARAH MIRK
A Christmas Carol
In a brawl, would: weep tremulously.
This play is a lover, not a fighter. Ebenezer Scrooge is admirably cantankerous and Jacob Marley's chain whippings are ghastly, but Bob Cratchit's children descend like a swarm of kisses. Outside of this idyllic world, children are devious monsters with dimples. Unfortunately, the little ladies and lads of A Christmas Carol are more interested in stroking their golden morality than kicking ass. "God bless us, every one," Tiny Tim chirps. The audience has been waiting for this catharsis. It collectively sighs out a year's worth of selfishness, and breathes deep of Tiny Tim's blessing. For a second, his clubfoot connects with the gonads of humanity, but not with the force or endurance of, say, The Nutcracker. (ACT Theatre) CIENNA MADRID
In a brawl, would: jazz hands!
I don't recall if the actors used jazz hands, but you have the impression that they would. Or that they would be very, very careful not to—too careful. Anyway, four performers, one piano player, and the kind of show your Christian aunt might be mildly shocked at: Santa moonlighting on erectile-dysfunction commercials, Mary Magdalene (à la Jesus Christ Superstar) singing "I don't know what to give him," and a riff on The Wizard of Oz: "A knock, knock here and a slap, slap there and a couple of DUIs—that's how my boyfriend went to jail and now he's into guys." Jazz hands! (Crepe de Paris) BRENDAN KILEY
A Tuna Christmas
In a brawl, would: throw a punch at the biggest guy in the room, just for the hell of it.
Two actors (Timothy Kelly and Nathan Kirk) go toe to toe in this enthusiastic production of a not-so-traditional Christmas in Tuna, the tiniest town in Texas. They play 22 roles between them, scurrying off to change costumes. Hilarity ensues as it so often does when men dress up as women and city folk portray small-town yokels with all their foibles, ignorance, and good, good hearts. And if the ending is just the tiniest bit hokey, well, by God, it's Christmas. (Burien Little Theatre) CHRIS MCCANN
In a brawl, would: tip your canoe, scream, try to kill your mom with an axe, not even die when you hit it on the head with an oar!
Sorry, this musical isn't about Christmas. Not even a little bit. I don't know what gave you that idea—although there are gingerbread men and a weeping Madonna and the set looks like it was barfed up by a giant candy cane (in a good way). But it is a lot like getting a Christmas present, because a full 10 minutes are devoted to one of my favorite things on earth: Tori "Donna Martin Graduates" Spelling!!! A listless teen, interrupted while watching the classic Lifetime Original Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? sings a song to Tori: "Tell me how to live off my dad/Your life is rad." (Live Girls! Theater) LINDY WEST
Merry F'ing X-mas
In a brawl, would: lose.
Merry F'ing X-mas is impersonal and played-out satirical sketch comedy. Despite some good premises, a likable cast, and better singing than Voices of Christmas (I'm not kidding), we already know the jokes: China exports crap, some kids need Ritalin, and Santa likes liquor. (Odd Duck Studio) TOM SHORTLIFFE
The Martini Brothers Holiday Showcase
In a brawl, would: faint.
There are several things going for The Martini Brothers Holiday Showcase: a sombrero sails across the stage, a minute-and-24-second-long It's a Wonderful Life ends with a nuclear explosion, and everyone in the audience has to sit on one another's laps and play Santa. The shame of it is that the second act, an adaptation of A Christmas Carol told in Grinch-style rhyme, squanders the anything-for-a-laugh energy. It comes out swinging and screaming like some blue-faced Celt warrior, but it winds up an exhausted clown staggering about in Smurf-face, a mundane helping of Yuletide wackiness. (Historic University Theater) PAUL CONSTANT
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
In a brawl, would: request mediation.
Like many children of the '70s, I loved reading the book, so it wasn't hard to be charmed by Shana Bestock's simply dressed production. Barbara Robinson's tale about a scruffy family of bullies hijacking a church pageant (and also about tolerance and class issues) is perennially successful. (The Bathhouse Theater) HANNAH LEVIN