Dina Martina Christmas Show

Re-bar, through Dec 31

Reviewed by Christopher Frizzelle

How Many Stars Jesus Would Give It: recommendedrecommendedrecommendedrecommendedrecommended

What It's Like: Dina Martina has been performing in Seattle for 27 years, and somehow, against the odds, she gets better with time. "Compliments of the season to you and yours! He is risen. Christ is risen. I'm lovin' it," she says, pumping the air with a raise-the-roof gesture, a poinsettia attached to her Madonna-like head mic. "Oh, did you see that fly?" she asked, as a fly that would not leave her alone swooped in front of her face. "That's Derek. He's always stealing spotlights." And then she went off on what had to be an entirely ad-libbed jag about Derek the fly, fabled house fly at Re-bar, concluding with a sad story about finding him dead on a windowsill last year. "He was flat and lifeless, but everyone told me he's back! He's back!" Watching Dina Martina riff on the holidays and reincarnation is like being served a delicious vat of clichés au gratin. You'd think the chubby-older-woman-with-a-hairy-back-and-no-talent-but-thinks-she's-God's-gift-to-singing shtick would get old, but it doesn't, because Grady West, who inhabits her horrible fashion choices, is a world-class artist, a first-rate writer, and a comedy genius. (He has a Stranger Genius Award.) There's something so enduringly brilliant about Dina's incurably bonkers self-empowerment, but also something grim and beastly about who she would be without it. I saw the Dina Martina Christmas Show with someone who hadn't seen a Dina show in a decade, and she couldn't believe how much funnier it was than she remembered.

What It Looks Like: Gilded trash.

Best Moment in the Show: The cover of "Sailing" by Christopher Cross, rewritten to be "Sleighing," all transcendent smugness and wistful warmth and cozy blankness.

The Nutcracker

McCaw Hall, through Dec 28

Reviewed by Rich Smith

How Many Stars Jesus Would Give It: recommendedrecommendedrecommendedrecommended

What It's Like: Watching The Nutcracker is like watching NASCAR. Lots of colors, everyone is dancing around in a circle, and the whole time you're thinking, "Oh my god, one of those dancers is going to crash into another one and there's going to be a sugar-plum explosion." Perhaps you can tell I'd never seen The Nutcracker before. For my mother, Christmas was a pagan holiday and thus an insult to Christ Our King. But this ballet is one of the craziest things I've ever seen. I mean, the ballet goes into this little girl's dream, wherein there's a war with a many-headed rat king who ends up dying dramatically after the girl throws her handkerchief at him. But what's fucked up is that a nutcracker steals one of the rat king's crowns, places it on the girl's head, and then she transforms into a bunch of adult snowflake ballerinas with crowns on! And THEN it turns out that the nutcracker transforms into her childhood crush! The two walk hand-in-hand toward a giant exploding star, which ends up being a portal into a 45-minute Katy Perry video filled with dancing desserts and a glittery peacock that moves like a sexy broken river. These images don't form the foundation of my childhood memories, and that depresses me greatly.

What It Looks Like: The big news with this Nutcracker is that Pacific Northwest Ballet replaced Maurice Sendak's beloved pastel set with a brighter one by Ian Falconer, author of the Olivia the pig children's book series and longtime set designer. The symmetry of Falconer's Nutcracker set would be obscene if it weren't for thick cartoonish lines and Dr. Seuss–like stage elements. It's hard not to see Wes Anderson's influence, but Falconer leaves his own distinctive marks all over the place. The performance begins, for example, with a cinematic video that takes the perspective of a bird that flies over a snowy village and swoops down to the doorstep of the mansion where the action is set. We pass through the double doors and meet Clara, who wears Olivia the pig's trademark candy-cane stripes. A rococo frame frames another rococo frame that frames the living-room scene, emphasizing the ballet's multilayered fever-dream narrative.

Best Moment in the Show: There's probably nothing more beautiful than watching ballerina snowflakes dancing like snowflakes as snowflakes fall upon them in a snowy wood. But I love the stiff, athletic dance of the harlequin dolls. So it's a tie.


West of Lenin, through Dec 19

Reviewed by Rich Smith

How Many Stars Jesus Would Give It: recommendedrecommendedrecommended

What It's Like: Distrust of and hatred for the wealthy thematically unites this evening of short plays. The first couple of plays—one about a divorced couple trying to split Christmas and the other about the sad life of a Christmastide evergreen—were basically SNL bits that didn't escalate quickly enough. After the slow start, though, the company really brought it.

Best Moment in the Show: This is a toss-up between two of the shorts. "White Kwanzaa (an appropriation comedy)" by Nicky Davis was straight-up gold. Two misguided white couples celebrate Kwanzaa. They listen and dance to hiphop, decorate their house with "traditional African" cornucopias, and claim to have cooked the celebratory meal using recipes from a cookbook called Little Sambo's Kitchen. The satire here is spot-on and timely, considering we still live in an era when Yale professors think it's okay for people to run around on Halloween wearing another culture as their costume. But Kelleen Conway Blanchard's "Rats and Roaches" was the best 10 minutes of theater I witnessed all evening. The premise was pretty familiar: Three British street urchins catch rats and roaches at a "home for unwanted children" for a Fagin-like person named Sleevil. But Blanchard freshens up this Oliver Twist–type story with hilarious language and plenty of imaginative punch—a skinny Santa, for instance, ends up leading a gang of alligators in an effort to avenge the dispossessed.

Okay, but Actually the Best Moment in the Show: When the young white couples in "White Kwanzaa" start revealing deep-seated racism by "accidentally" saying the n-word.

For Christmas

West of Lenin, through Dec 20

Reviewed by Rich Smith

How Many Stars Jesus Would Give It: half a recommended

What It's Like: This one's a real, um, Christ-miss . Act I: Santa and Jesus try to move a couch through a door. This nonissue is as boring and unrevealing of the characters as it sounds. Act II: Jesus and Santa play a drunken card game to determine who will win Christmas. My notes about the script: "If I have to watch two people drink and make bad jokes about Henry Weinhard's beer and have a stilted, half-remembered conversation about nothing for another minute, I'm going to scream." I did not scream, but trying not to do so was a chore.

What It Looks Like: A small audience (the area holds only 15 people) sits on boxes and trunks lined along the walls. The stage and seating situation, designed by Kasia Rozanska, makes sense considering the plot of Nick Edwards's script, but that's where the sense-making ends in this deeply boring and at times objectionable play.

Best Moment in the Show: When it was over. recommended