2005_12_arts_caroloy.JPGIt might be hard to get to a theatre in time to see any of these picks, but here goes. Even with our fairly averse attitude toward holiday-specific performances, it’s hard not to notice that the current crop of shows is pretty heavy on the fractured fairytale side of things. Except for kids, there’s almost no straightforward telling of a Christmas- (or other holiday) related story. We’re not complaining, but it does make it harder to pick out something as the zaniest take on the genre. Broken Watch Theatre Company’s A Broken Christmas Carol (a 21st century, NC-17 version) and the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre Company’s Christmas Carol, Oy Hanukkah, Merry Kwanzaa, Happy Ramadan (a version “with Old World accents and New World inclusiveness” – Scrooge would not approve) show that Dickens’s story is still the go-to touchstone for holiday theatre. Maybe because it’s so omnipresent, we can’t help but be a bit more drawn to Jeffrey Solomon’s one-man Santa Claus is Coming Out (or, How the Gay Agenda Came Down My Chimney) which is playing three nights at Queens Theatre in the Park. Solomon takes on a dozen plus characters in this reprisal of mockumentary about the jolly red guy with the giant belly. Oh, if the people howling about a “war on Christmas” could see all this now…not that they’d expect much more from us NYC heathens, of course.

One show that has something to do with the holidays but isn’t a take-off or parody of a classic – a difference that caught our eyes favorably – is Josh Fox’s The Expense of Spirit, produced by the International WOW company at the ever-reliable Ohio Theatre for just three nights. The story centers around a holiday party at a Brooklyn video store and manages to incorporate current anxieties about the war in Iraq and the deterioration of parts of this country’s psyche without being sentimental or preachy or, let’s be blunt, lame; it had a successful run a year ago and we definitely want to catch it in this brief re-emergence.

Since there’s such a paucity of traditional holiday shows, you’ll forgive us if we skip on over to some things that aren’t even remotely related to jingle bells or coal in stockings or what have you. Haymarket, produced by the Alchemy Theatre Company, fits that bill pretty well: it not only doesn’t invoke warm fuzzy Christmas feelings, it’s about Chicago’s bloody Haymarket riots in 1886. After being reminded of that violent episode, with workers agitating for shorter hours, the MTA-TWU clashes will seem even more like child’s play. Zayd Dorn focuses on Albert Parsons, one of the anarchist-socialist ringleaders, and his wife Lucy, to tell this important, dark story documentary-style but with good doses of suspense and high drama.

Finally, distancing ourselves from typical holiday fare at light speed, in Wings Theatre’s Gay Plays Series you can see another sort of documentary – Through A Naked Lens, which takes place in Roaring Twenties Hollywood when journalist Herbert Howe and silent film star Ramon Novarro were lovers. George Barthel’s play isn’t strictly factual, and aims more to supply an understanding of the emotional life of Howe’s character; in other words, don’t go expecting to learn everything about the characters and their world, but rather to be intrigued by the intense passions on display – passion that could be instructive to some of the tired, insincere holiday offerings out there. If you can make it to the theatre, watch and enjoy.

Details after the jump...

2005_12_arts_lens5.jpgDetails: A Broken Christmas Carol is at the Michael Weller Theatre, 311 W. 43rd St, 6th Floor, through Dec. 30. Shows are Mon. & Wed.-Sat. at 8pm, Sat. also at 3pm and Sun. at 7pm. Tickets via Theatermania. The Czech-American Marionette Company’s show is at the Jan Hus Playhouse, 351 E. 74th St. through Jan. 1, with performances We.d-Sat. at 7pm. Tickets via Smarttix. Santa Claus Is Coming Out is at the Queens Theatre in the Park (directions here). It shows tomorrow through Friday at 8pm. Tickets here. The Expense of Spirit is at the Ohio Theatre, 66 Wooster St., also tomorrow through Friday at 8pm. Call 212-886-4551 to reserve tickets. Haymarket is at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St., also tomorrow through Friday at 8pm. Tickets via Ticket Central. Through A Naked Lens is at Wings Theatre, 154 Christopher St., through Jan. 21 except from 12/24-1/1. Shows are Mon. & Thurs.-Sat. 8pm, Sun. 3:30pm; ticket reservations online here.