Review: AntiKlaus at E.M.P. Collective

TheatreBloom rating:

You better watch out! You better not cry! You better not pout! I’m telling you why! AntiKlaus is coming to town! Well, it’s not coming to town so much as it is returning to town. Taking up holiday residence with the E.M.P. Collective for a four-night festival engagement, AntiKlaus, as written by Alex Hacker, puts the slay in sleigh ride this Christmas season. Directed by Sarah Jacklin, this grotesque underground interpretation of holiday spirit is just what Santa ordered for everyone’s who’s been naughty, despises holiday cheer of the conventional variety, or just wants a gritty alternative to the saccharine holiday stage classics.

Nicolette Le Faye is AntiKlaus at E.M.P. Collective
Nicolette Le Faye is AntiKlaus at E.M.P. Collective Amanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom

Right from the moment you converge on the space, you know it’s not your grandma’s Christmas story. Writer Alex Hacker ensures that this holiday tale is anything but traditional, though in its own way it takes up roots all its own, making its third appearance now in the Baltimore area for the holiday season. While the script itself feels somewhat incomplete— especially the meta element of the show that falters itself into place late in the performance (which requires having seen at least one of the previous two incarnations of AntiKlaus to be fully understood and appreciated)— Hacker’s writing is not without merit. Possessing the character of AntiKlaus with a devilish spirit, Hacker creates the perfect opposition for the generally jolly overlord that reigns supreme during the month of December.

Hacker’s notion of capturing the discord and dissonance among families at Christmas time is accurate. While the rest of the outside world— both secular and faith-based— are busy celebrating family, loved ones, friends and good times with merriment and cheer, mommy, daddy, and little Billy are having a miserable Christmas because of their own personal dysfunction. Director Sarah Jacklin shies away from pushing the envelope with Hacker’s writing, leaving the production caught halfway between a mockery of Christmas spirit and a truly gruesome devolution of humanity. While Jacklin keeps a firm pacing moving, it’s her lack of gory execution that leaves the show feeling somewhat lacking, particularly when so much of it appears to be written right into the script.

Sound Designers Elijah Forest and Sean Seaton drive home the message of a warped and twisted Christmas with their broken-found-sound underscoring. Unearthly, unworldly, and most definitely unsettling, Forest and Seaton really amp up the atmosphere throughout the performance with these wicked and unholy soundscapes that set your teeth on edge. Lighting Designer Mia Giles furthers the disturbing atmosphere with her pulsating and blinking red light floods, particularly when AntiKlaus is up to no good. Jacklin, who also serves as the show’s Set Designer, does an exceptional job of laying out two stories across the space, creating an upstairs platform and a downstairs living area, as well as using found and upcycled props to create a more authentically involved show.

With only four characters, at one performer per character, Sarah LaMar, Scott Burke, Ann Tabor, and Nicolette Le Faye work exceptionally well with one another. LaMar delivers a disturbingly accurate rendition of a disgruntled housewife, whose passions and desires kick it into high gear once the AntiKlaus character gets hijinks underway. Burke, as the whining pathetic and undesirable excuse for a father and husband, delivers an equally disturbing rendition of emotional trauma, particularly in the beginning of the performance when he’s lamenting how he’s basically fucked Christmas for all. Watch Burke’s eyes carefully as they are the windows to the show’s soul.

Ann Tabor takes on the difficult role of playing Little Billy, and does so with aplomb. Moody, melancholic, and mostly apathetic, Tabor addresses the miscreant child with a milquetoast approach, which matches Hacker’s anticlimactic ending to this year’s incarnation of the show. Tabor is an actively engaged watcher, being forced into the audience for a good chunk of the play’s rising action, and her character’s general apathy is a solid matching reflection of Hacker’s mild conclusion. The action and punch of the show is delivered by Nicolette Le Faye, playing the raunchy, bawdy, and thoroughly revolting AntiKlaus. With her filthy mouth, lewd physicality, and infuriating bouts of temper, Le Faye delivers a Christmas spirit belched from the underbelly of hell. When she hops up onto the couch and observes the scene, her demonic channeling reverberates right through her body creating a picturesque entity of mischievous evil. Remarkable in her handling of the more provocative scenes, Le Faye is a thoroughly enjoyable character in this production.

Make your list, check it twice, and make sure that if you’ve been naughty you get your ass to see AntiKlaus.

Running Time: Roughly one hour with no intermission

AntiKlaus plays through December 27, 2015 at the E.M.P. Collective— 307 W. Baltimore Street in Baltimore, MD. Tickets are available for purchase at the door or in advance online.

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