Enjoli Gavin-Rudd in “Milking Christmas” (Paul Andrews)
Christmas is a subject that has been so thoroughly mined for content that it seems nearly impossible to create a new truly original piece of holiday art—let alone something that can be considered even close to being a real modern classic. Clearly, it’s not entirely impossible, though, because Milking Christmas, created by Brian Huther, Ben Auxier, Seth Macchi, and Ryan McCall, currently running at the Black Box, has the potential to be just that.
Milking Christmas centers on Macey, one of the eight maids-a-milking from the iconic “12 Days of Christmas” song. The play takes on tried and true themes of the genre: the history of Christmas, the source of Christmas magic, and the presence of some nefarious force behind both. Macey sets out to find out what’s behind some holiday mysteries—including the inexplicably high coal production given the high ratio of “good” children in the world—and meets a delightfully eclectic ragtag bunch of characters in the process.
That ragtag bunch is made up of one of the strongest, funniest ensembles I’ve seen in a theater, possibly ever. (At least since Auxier and McCall’s last production at the Black Box this summer.) The cast is working off an incredible script but it’s their capacity for spontaneity that really allows the work to shine. That spontaneity is actually strong enough to warrant a disclaimer in the program, warning that the ad-libbing of lines might (and absolutely does) result in actors breaking character. Some audience members will surely find those laugh breaks distracting or maybe even unprofessional, but they’re well worth the payoff.
Only a cast (and a larger creative team) so primed for improvisation could have put on the performance I saw this weekend. Opening a show in the middle of a holiday-season “tripledemic” of highly contagious illnesses comes with a great deal of risk. Opening night of Milking Christmas required one swing understudy to step into a role, and night two (when I attended) had another actor switching over to an entirely different role he’d never played before. But the cast as I saw it was so adept at everything they were doing that I honestly can’t imagine how things were supposed to play out. I’m sure everyone was perfectly suited to their designated parts as originally cast, but a bit of madness made for a wonderfully energetic, totally hilarious dynamic.
No matter what cast you end up seeing, Milking Christmas is an utter delight. Directors Vanessa Severo and Rusty Sneary have mounted a real tour de force, making the most of the Black Box’s small runway-style stage and a few deliberately simple set pieces. The show is a Kansas City original, though it’s been a few years since it’s graced our town. With any luck, that won’t be the case moving forward. Hopefully, we can have this show permanently planted as a regular holiday tradition.
“Milking Christmas,” A Living Room Theatre production, runs at the Black Box (1060 Union Ave) through December 24. For more information, visit www.blackboxkc.com.