The Flea’s Romantic Holiday Comedy
Looking at Christmas Comes to TV
December 21 – 25 on Thirteen WNET

Thirteen WNET will air The Flea Theater’s acclaimed 2010 production of Looking at Christmas by Steven Banks (head writer of SpongeBob SquarePants) beginning December 21. Filmed live at The Flea last year, this romantic comedy set in front of New York’s famed holiday window displays is directed by Jim Simpson and features The Bats, The Flea’s resident company of actors. Broadcasts on Thirteen WNET are slated for Dec. 21 at 10pm; Dec. 23rd at 3am, and Dec. 25 at 11pm. Check your local listing for air dates in other markets.  Here’s the review.

 … Boy Meets Girl in front of Bloomingdale’s …

Looking at Christmas is a delightful romp through some of the world’s great Christmas stories with just enough bite to make it exciting — and hilarious.

John, a young writer who’s just been fired meets Charmian, a young actress with no audition call-backs, who charms him into accompanying her on their private Christmas Eve tour of NYC’s famous decorated Christmas store windows — Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf’s, Lord & Taylor’s and then some — with a climactic finale at Macy’s.  After they move on to the next, the window they’ve been viewing comes alive: we get to see what John and Charmian saw and more — what the characters in the windows think and do about their lives in the stories they find themselves in.  All along the way Banks gives us amusingly irreverent views of iconic narratives — he’s a tv writer and the play shows that in its fast-paced episodic appeal, but you won’t quite see this on tv.

Mrs. Santa Claus — in the skimpy outfit we heard about from John and Charmian — allures an Elf.  The Little Match Girl rebels against Fate.  Tiny Tim in a metallic space suit lets Scrooge have it.  The spoof of the fabulous ice wonderland of Bergdorf’s windows, with an icy Princess and a Snowman missing some crucial parts, was one of my favorites.  We get the “true story” behind eight vignettes, with the last being … well, I’m not going to let the cat out of the bag — although you can find it on the Flea’s web page.  A couple of the episodes seem somewhat forced, but all are at the least entertaining.

We may not have known how much we wanted the characters in those detailed and tinseled store windows to come to life but Banks, a lead writer for SpongeBob SquarePants, did (not surprising when you think about it), and in Looking at Christmas he fulfills our yearning.  As a friend said, John and Charmian’s exchange of gifts at the end echoes that of the couple in O’Henry’s Gifts of the Magi, one of the windows.  With that knowing stroke, the real world and the world of characters in our communal imaginations come together — on the real side of things.

Jim Simpson directs Banks’ witty script with verve and style.  Raul Sigmund Julia as Snowman, Christian Adam Jacobs as Elf, Holly Chou as the Little Match Girl struck me as nothing less than powerful in their humor, but all the actors, mainly from the Flea’s young resident company, The Bats, are about perfect in their roles, and their timing throughout carries the day.  The costumes are just right, the lighting and scenic relationship between the real world and the Christmas dioramas are effective — this play is a real Christmas present!

Looking at Christmas plays at the Flea Theater in NYC’s Tribeca through December 30th.

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