From the Charred Underbelly of the Yule Log
A Contemporary Theatre, 700 Union St, 292-7676. Wed, Thurs, and Sun at 7:30, Fri-Sat at 8, Sun matinee Oct 22 at 2; $15, $10 age 25 and under. Through Oct 29.

CHRISTMAS (like one-person shows about Christmas) is an inescapable feature of the wintry landscape, but this festive nut roll featuring Kevin Kling (actor/playwright and NPR commentator on All Things Considered) is less like opening presents under the tree with your family and more like opening beers on Kwanzaa with a charming lunatic you met in an airport bar after your plane got delayed by a freak hail of frogs.

The show opens in pitch black as the familiar lisp of Mr. Showmanship himself, Liberace, earnestly describes his inspirational meeting with the Pope. The lights rise on Kling, bundled up in an overcoat and galoshes, playing a soulful holiday carol on a tuba. It will be a delightful, whiplash-inducing hour and a half before we see how these disparate elements combine in Kling's crazy but deeply compassionate world. At a rat-a-tat pace, he breathlessly draws us into a typical Christmas from his Minnesotan past, from his fervent wish for a squirrel monkey--advertised for $9.99 in the back of a Spiderman comic--all the way down to the floor, where a yapping family dog runs around in circles with a piece of ham stuck to her forehead. But just as the audience settles in, imagining itself on a nostalgic sled ride to Grandmother's house, Kling courageously changes gears, revealing his true self: a Black Sabbath-listening bad boy behind the wheel of a souped-up muscle car, longing (in the words of a hobo friend he met riding the rails) to be loved "spiritually, morally, and physically."

Kling, wringing terrific animation and expression from his spare frame and permanently puzzled-looking mug, is aided on this madcap journey by a remarkable way with words (the yapping dog "shivers like it's cold but whines like it's on fire"). But more than that--he has what can only be described as ethical charisma. Funny, smart, and quirkily sexy, Kling leaves an audience so weakened with laughter and startled by insight that they have no choice but to love him each and every way he desires.

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