BAILEYS HARBOR, Wis. (WFRV) – This coronavirus thing has created new opportunities for creative sorts.
Take a whatchamacallit called “Holidays on Ice.”
In the past, Michael Stebbins, an aficionado of David Sedaris, would present in-person readings of the jaundiced author’s holiday humor. Wry stuff. Dark side. Adult.
Required would be travel to Bjorklunden lodge in Door County.
The program would be akin to this year’s three-essay program – “essay” being loosely employed:
+ “The Cow and the Turkey.” Farm animals talk. They have money. Coming on Christmas, they buy Secret Santa gifts. The Cow has purposely chosen the Turkey because you-know-who will be on the menu for Christmas dinner.
+ “Dinah, the Christmas …..” This is an absolutely true tale – in David Sedaris’ measure of truth – of the year his sister, Lisa, brought home Dinah, one of her co-workers in the kitchen of a restaurant. The job is a work-release thingie for Dinah, who has had another occupation most folks kind of frown on. Young David has accompanied Lisa to “a defeated neighborhood” to rescue Dinah from crossing into the River Styx aboard the Booze Boat. Now, Dinah has sloshed into the Sedaris Family Christmas.
+ “Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol.” Ol’ Thad is a theater critic. He reviews EVERYTHING (probably even “Holidays on Ice”) with dead-serious sarcasm. This time, he has taken on three elementary school Christmas productions. Ol’ Thad whacks the kiddies something fierce – and anybody attached. A sampler: “Although the program listed no director, the apathetic staging suggested the limp, partially-paralyzed hand of Sister Mary Elizabeth Bronson, who should’ve been excommunicated after last season’s disastrous Thanksgiving program. Here again, the first through third-grade actors graced the stage with an enthusiasm most children reserve for a smallpox vaccination.”
This year, Bjorklunden is shut. In summer, the garden area of Bjorklunden is where Door Shakespeare puts on classical plays. Michael Stebbins is producing artistic director of Door Shakespeare. He and managing director Amy Ensign started “Holidays on Ice” as a way to give Door Shakespeare a winter presence.
COVID-19 being the Grinch, there is no in-person “Holidays on Ice” this year. Theater people being masters of improvising, “Holidays on Ice” has gone virtual. The “show” is livestreamed from Michael Stebbins’ apartment in Shorewood.
Michael Stebbins calls on the professional actor in him to embellish David Sedaris’ written tongue-in-cheekiness.
His audience is Zoom folks.
Technology being technology, Michael Stebbins is seated in an idyllic homey setting with a fireplace and a Christmas tree decked out perfectly as though by Martha Stewart.
The backdrop is an illusion, and so is some of Michael Stebbins’ touch of humor – that the liquid he is drinking from glass and cup and cup and glass is something other than diet ginger ale. He teased more on opening night Friday when he picked up a plastic bottle and said, “I’ll save the pills for later.”
His cat, Magnolia, made a cameo Friday – conversing briefly with Michael Stebbins from off screen.
There is something infectious about this – David Sedaris’ kid-in-the-back-of-the-classroom humor, Michael Stebbins’ pleasured voice as he reads something he savors, the chance to laugh out loud secretly at home at sometimes socially incorrect things. Michael Stebbins takes diabolical delight voicing Dinah – a blowsy, husky-voiced lush in full lush-bloom as she is welcomed by David Sedaris’ mother as though she is Princess Di, not Ms. Dinah-mite – “Urp… hick… urp… How’s by youse?”
Running time: One hour, though Michael Stebbins may stay and chat; Friday, he talked about selecting material for the presentation and lamenting how some of David Sedaris’ topics are newly off limits.
Remaining performances: 7 p.m. Dec. 5, 5 p.m. Dec. 6, 7 p.m. Dec. 18-19 and 5 p.m. Dec. 20
Next: “Dream of Avon,” a play reading, Dec. 11-13