(Dec. 12, 2019 Update: Hudson Theatre Works is presenting “And My True Love Gave to Me!” again this year, Dec. 13-14. Visit hudsontheatreworks.com)
“And My True Love Gave to Me!,” Hudson Theatre Works’ holiday show at Weehawken’s Wilson School, promises Santa, elves, French hens, magical birds, princesses and swans. And it delivers all that. But still, don’t bring the kids.
Playwright Luigi Jannuzzi’s comedy starts with its cast — five women and three men, ranging in ages from millennials to sexagenarians — singing a sped-up version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Then the show presents a dozen tart, adult vignettes, each loosely based on the gifts in the song — replete with talking frogs and enchanted princes as well as jokes about castration, cheating girlfriends, blood-sucking vampires and a brain-damaged bird that falls in love with a toy.
Seriously, don’t bring the kids.
The show comes off like a cross between Second City, Scheherazade, O. Henry and Rocky & Bullwinkle’s “Fractured Fairy Tales.” The cast has fun taking on a variety of roles, often cross-dressing, occasionally playing against their real age and frequently rolling around the floor. Just a few props and wigs provide context, but this is a show that will force you to use your imagination, whether a particular set piece involves French hens, geese a-laying, swans a-swimming, lords a-leaping, or five golden rings.
Hudson Theatre Works has been using Weehawken’s all-but-abandoned Wilson School as its home, and the old auditorium (which has been updated with professional lighting and a sound system) provides the perfect setting for the play. On the stage, we see the bedroom of a little girl whose teenage brother — desperate to slip out for a date — tries to get her to fall asleep by telling her stories. That’s the framing device that’s used to set up the vignettes, which unfold on the floor right in front of the audience. It makes for an intimate viewing experience.
Dracula’s son doesn’t want to follow in the family business and becomes a department store Santa in one skit; in another, a dog and a cat discuss how much they hate the swans in their neighborhood park. The vignettes follow the same pattern — premise, setup, punchline, blackout — but some deliver laughs while others rely on irony. It all flies by so fast — the pacing by director Frank Licato has a crisp zing — that if you don’t like one act, another will immediately follow, and 90 minutes fly by in a flash.
The program doesn’t identify the cast by their roles so I’ll just name them all: Valerie Stack Dodge, Beatriz Esteban-Messina, Cassandra Giovine, Ryan Glynn, Todd B. Hilsee, Jeffrey Leshansky, Sue-Ellen Mandell, and Kelley McAndrews. Each brings distinct character to their parts.
“And My True Love Gave to Me!” continues Dec. 15 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 16 at 5 p.m. at the Wilson School, 80 Hauxhurst Ave., Weehawken. Tickets are $15 (available from brownpapertickets.com) and audience members are requested to bring one non-perishable food item for the Good Shepherd Lutheran Food Kitchen.
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence, though, depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of $10, or any other amount, to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJ Arts Daily to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.