Pat Hazell is a writer with a highly lauded list of credits in the field of television comedy, most notably for his work as a writer on the sitcom Seinfeld. And while he's also dabbled in theater, his play A Kodachrome Christmas, making its debut at City Theatre, suggests a writer stretching himself in a relatively untried form.
I've had some experience in the playwriting field, and I'm always eager to share tips with a fellow scribe. I've found that the trick in writing plays, Mr. Hazell, is to not create something which makes the audience want to pull their lips over their own heads and bite themselves in the back of the neck.
Honestly, I don't even know where to begin. We're supposedly at the taping of a low-watt cable-access show in Butler, Pa., featuring the very perky Earlene Hoople presenting her annual Christmas-themed show ... the first since her husband, Ray, owner of the station and husband of 35 years, passed on earlier in the year.
And for the next 90 minutes, Hazell attempts to drown us in a vat of theatrical Cool-Whip. Trading on the clichéd sweetness of small-town values while mocking them at the same time, Hazell pulls out every stop he can think of.
Someone is brought from the audience to help bake cookies; there's a hand-bell choir made up of audience volunteers; we get little videos about holiday traditions, and even commercials satirizing Christian entrepreneurship.
Nothing makes sense in any sort of linear fashion, and how this television station even functions remains a mystery. Playing Earlene, Peggy Roeder does a fine job keeping up this constant stream of inane babble and manufactured sincerity, with each cornpone joke falling flatter than the one before it. As in the talking parrot that spells the word "fun" but never gets past the first two letters. Laugh? I thought I'd pee my pants!
And the climax of the show is when Earlene sits down and narrates a slide show. Yes, the climax. Maybe Hazell's extensive television credits hide from him a simple and immediate truth: Watching someone sitting in a chair looking at projected images really isn't what you might call rich theatrical paydirt.
But it was when the fake snow started falling behind the fake kitchen window, your honor, that I decided to go out and buy that gun. I throw myself on the mercy of the court.
A Kodachrome Christmas continues through Dec. 27. City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St., South Side. 412-431-2489 or www.citytheatrecompany.org
- Peggy Roeder in A Kodachrome Christmas, at City Theatre. Photo courtesy of Suellen Fitzsimmons.