The Night Before Christmas, an original one-act play written by Sean Griffin, gets off to a clunky start: It's Christmas Eve, and an all-American family—Mom, Dad, and little Cindy—puts the finishing touches on a tree while Dad (George Lofland) drinks compulsively and bemoans his personal lack of Christmas spirit. Cindy (Alycia Nguyen) is a charming child on the cusp of preteenhood, Mom (Danette Meline) is earnest to a fault, but overall, the scene feels like a mashup between a Lifetime Original Movie and a Brawny paper towel ad.

Support The Stranger

Things pick up once Santa Claus (played by Phillip Keiman) thumps his way down the chimney. You see, Saint Nick is also suffering from a serious case of holiday ennui. The script builds momentum as Santa explains how he's lost his cheer. He's sick to death of living off a constant diet of cookies. He whines about his waistline while reaching for an orange. He cracks jokes about holiday unions and threatens to sue over the accuracy of Christmas songs. But his main gripe is that Christmas has been reduced to a worldwide clamor for crappy gifts—it's "nothing more than a global trash day," he complains in a strong German accent. In response, Santa basically goes on strike in the family's living room. Soon, the whole household—plus one wisecracking, booze-swilling reindeer from the Bronx (played by a delightful Nicole Merat)—is debating the spirit of the holiday.

Christmas pans out as you'd expect: The true meaning of Christmas is less about presents than spending quality time with family and loved ones (spoiler!). But this time of year, it's a message that can't be drummed into children's young, greedy skulls hard or fast enough. Clocking in at less than 50 minutes, Christmas is a succinct, entertaining vehicle for that ubiquitous message. recommended