On Stage

Under the Tree

A spectacle for the season

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

For me, the Christmas season isn’t so much a secular celebration as it is a reason to cram as many weird and wonderful events into my December day-planner as I can. Some are designed to kindle the holiday spirit, while others remind me not to take it so damn seriously.

Last weekend was a prime example of what I’m talking about. In addition to showing up at Bellingham’s Grand Avenue Alehouse to witness a Friday-night smack-down of those taking part in both Santa Con and Krampus Con—a genial gathering of costumed revelers that had one Santa bemoaning “We were outnumbered, but at least they didn’t slaughter us!”—I also hosted a holiday brunch, did some downtown-focused Christmas shopping, watched a horse-drawn carriage carry crooning carolers past my house, and viewed Under the Tree at the iDiOM Theater.

While the last event mentioned seems like it might also fit into the “Gee, that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside” category, I’m pleased to report that is most definitely not the case.

Even before the performance started, there were a few clues that the multimedia show created and performed by On the Precipice Productions’ Ian Bivins and Angela Kiser wasn’t going to consist of the typical holiday fare.

A large black cloth covered most of the set, and behind it those who looked closer could see hints of a Christmas celebration in progress, including bricks, tinsel, a wreath and stockings hung by the chimney with care. The rest of Under the Tree followed the same modus operandi—glimpses of the goodness of what the holidays can represent, overshadowed by forces of the underlying ills of the world, such as greed and gluttony.

Kristopher Lopez opened the production as a Satanic narrator questioning those who celebrate Christmas in the face of such darkness, and promising those of us in the audience that we were about to experience a “spectacle for the season.”

He was right. For the next hour, I marveled at the way Bivins and Kiser had twisted their version of the holidays in such a delightful manner. With help from video projectionist Juliette Machado and sound fella Brendan Richard LaBotz, as well as the dastardly deity portrayed by Lopez, the duo took us on a fast-paced tour of what can only be described as the “anti-Christmas.”

I’m not going to delve too deep into the spectacles I witnessed on that chilly December night, but let’s just say that if you go see Under the Tree, you’ll never think of a turkey the same way again. The same goes for gift-wrapped teddy bears, egg nog, children’s tears, Santa Claus, and family feasts.

And because Kiser and Bivins are involved in so many aspects of the local performance scene—the real-life couple have collaborated with Bellingham Repertory Dance, Kuntz and Company, iDiOM Theater, and a variety of other area artists—all of their talents are front and center for their first full-length production.

This means that the series of sketches, songs and dances that are part of the performance are much more than a merry mashup. The show is a cohesive collection of scenes and videos that showcase what happens when Christmas doesn’t turn out perfectly, and it’s all the better for it.

In other words, while watching the show isn’t going to leave you with a “goodwill toward man” vibe, it will nevertheless entertain you.

Perhaps Satan (Santa?) said it best: “Take the trip for yourselves, and find out what’s under the tree.”

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