“Christmas is Burning,” a collaboration between Sgt. Rigsby and his Amazing Marionettes and Café Nordo in Pioneer Square, serves a four-course dinner plus a plot featuring live actors and puppets who save Christmas.
Just when you think you’ve seen every holiday-theater slant, here comes a “Star Trek”-meets-“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” shadow-puppet musical, with dinner.
Seattle playwright and puppeteer Scot Augustson’s brainchild “Christmas is Burning,” the latest quirky foray of his Sgt. Rigsby and his Amazing Marionettes, is a collaboration with Café Nordo — the only dinner theater this side of the Yukon likely to serve you an entree of reindeer shepherd’s pie.
Café Nordo and Augustson have in common a love for zany parody, taking popular genres (here sci-fi) to surreal extremes. But in “Christmas is Burning,” the satire is a convoluted and hyperextended mash-up of wordplay and shadow antics.
‘Christmas is Burning’
Through Dec. 30, Nordo’s Culinarium, 109 S. Main St., Seattle; $85, includes four-course dinner (brownpapertickets.com).
How to encapsulate a plot that stops making sense before you get to the main course?
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Here goes: The show has two sets of characters, the crew of a spaceship (played by live actors) and the rustic cutout shadow personae (manipulated by Augustson and fellow puppeteer Ben Laurence) that appear on screen.
See, robots are coming from the future to wage their insidious campaign to destroy Christmas. In response, a space team led by the Capt. Picard-esque commander Gulliver (Roy Stanton) and his first mate Dutch Elm (Opal Peachey) are zooming via the USS Whoville back to the 1970s. Their mission is to gyrate back and forth in time, and assist a motley group of puppet figures — a bassuatan (a basset hound crossbred with an orangutan), a time-frozen Tiny Tim, a Scottish orphanage mistress and others — in fending off the dastardly cyborgs and an army of nutcrackers.
There are time-traveling cameos by the bodice-ripper book-cover model Fabio, “It’s a Wonderful Life’s” Jimmy Stewart, a Frankenstein monster. Space cadets transform into zombies. The biblical three wise men are encountered in a Bethlehem tourist shop. And there are various eruptions of quantum psychics, puppet-on-puppet sex and violence and (happily) live music.
One can appreciate Augustson’s whimsically perverse imagination, and his gift for stuffing a sleigh-load of high/low cultural references — from the wit of Dr. Seuss to the mathematical theories of Ludwig Wittgenstein — into this bulging Christmas stocking.
But while sight gags and wordplay come at you like a Firesign Theatre barrage of puns and jests, they’re tediously hard to track, and after a while the laughs dwindle to an occasional chuckle. The show also misses a chance to satirize more timely and provocative targets — i.e., the alleged “war on Christmas” that some right-wing Christian groups insist is violating their freedom by celebrating religious and cultural diversity during the winter holidays instead of just Christmas.
But things brighten up with the meal, designed by Erin Brindley with seasonal flair and fancy. It begins with pillowy saffron bread and a festival wreath of olives and pickles, and continues with empanadas, chestnut-butternut soup with a gingerbread cookie for dunking, and that Free Range Blitzen Shepherd’s Pie. The meat is from Alaska, ground and deliciously stewed in wine, cloves and cinnamon, then topped with sinfully rich mashed potatoes. (There’s a lentil pie for vegetarians or anyone who can’t bear to eat Blitzen.)
The music, a mixture of cool jazz and enjoyable songs (including originals and a lusty “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”), also brighten the evening. So do the puppet voicings of Evan Mosher and singer-composer-accent-whiz Shawnmarie Stanton, impressive even when I had no idea what she was talking about.