Spider-Man meets It’s A Wonderful Life (with a bit of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol thrown in for good holiday measure) in Cameron Parker’s A Spider-Man Christmas: A Satire, and if this latest from Mosaic Lizard Theater is a bit rough around the edges and not all performances up to those of its more highly-trained and experienced cast members, it does one thing to perfection. It keeps its audiences in stitches throughout. (Make that red-blue-&-black stitches, to match Spidey’s superhero garb.)
Those familiar with either the now 62-year-old Marvel Comics’ mainstay or the dozen-year-old Tobey McGuire-turned-Andrew Garfield movie franchise will recognize each and every leading player in the Spider-Man Christmas cast.
There’s our young hero—newspaper photographer Peter Parker in real life and masked superhero in times of need—brought to irrepressible life on the Mosaic Lizard stage by writer-co-director-composer Parker (no relation to Peter).
There’s also Peter’s newspaper publisher boss and Spider-Man nemesis J. Jonah Jamenson* (Toby Tropper); his best friend Harry Osbourne (Anthony Suarez Jr.), these days trying on his own super-persona as Hobgoblin; his rival girlfriends Gwen Stacy (Summer Stratton) and Mary Jane Watson (Sierra Wells); the uncle and aunt (Jay Parker as Ben and Alyssa Anderson as May) who raised the future Spider-Man (though Uncle Ben has long since met his maker); genius inventor, sorcerer, and all-around supervillain Doctor Doom (Kurt Haaker); Harry’s not-so-nice dad Norman (Cameron Parker’s real-life-actor dad Jay), head of the multi-billion dollar multinational corporation Oscorp; and popping over from rival movie franchise The Avengers none other than Captain America himself (co-director Cameron Rose), an added treat for those who know that competing movie studios will forever keep Spidey and Captain A. apart on the silver screen.
As befits its title, A Spider-Man Christmas opens mid-holiday season, though from the looks of things, Christmas cheer would seem to be in jeopardy in New York City with construction workers bemoaning just another cloudy day in The Big Apple and protesters crowding the streets demanding eggnog. Newspaper editor Jamenson has hired his rookie shutterbug nephew Mortimer to take Peter’s place at the Daily Bugle. A band of hillbilly sneak thieves is prowling the streets with Aunt Mae as their latest victim. Not only that, but Spider-Man’s web-shooter is on the blink, a case of particularly bad timing since Captain America has just delivered news that Doctor Doom is up to something sinister.
Complicating matters, Captain A. is going to be taking his first vacation in years … and thus needs Peter to borrow his suit and shield, the better to “give the spider a break and have a taste of being the star-spangled man.”
Then there’s the fact that Spider-Man has just had his picture taken trying to assault J. Jonah with a trash can lid, no matter that the photo was a setup and that other shots—Spidey stealing from an old lady’s purse, taking candy from a baby, and catcalling from a white van as beautiful women pass by—are all photoshopped.
“We’ve got the pictures that will finally turn this city against you, Mr. Man,” declares Jamenson with glee.
Meanwhile, Doctor Doom has concocted a fiendish plan involving lasers, gamma rays, electro hydrabytes, and an army of super-strong mindless drones who will bend at his very will, thereby ending humanity as we know it … and in so doing replace the outdated holiday we call Christmas with a “new cool holiday called Doomsday.”
And if this weren’t already enough, J. Jonah’s country bumpkin band of pickpockets have used the “ol’ Jamenson switcheroo” to swipe the three thousand dollars in cash that Peter and Harry have saved towards their dream project: the unbendable, waterproof, everlasting battery, two-hundred-gigabyte cell phone!
It’s no wonder then, that Peter winds up at the top of the Empire State Building with thoughts of jumping off and only his guardian angel Clarence (sorry, make that his guardian angel Uncle Ben) to show our demoralized hero what a Wonderful Life he’s had and what the world would be like without Spider-Man … and in so doing win himself his wings.
Having already given more than enough away about Act One, I won’t spoil any of the surprises scriptwriter Parker has in store in A Spider-Man Christmas’s second act, other than to say that in this alternate universe, there’s a whole new set of superheroes, Christmas has indeed become Doomsday, and the iPhone, sorry make that the iDoom bends. It bends!
If all of the above hasn’t already made it perfectly clear, A Spider-Man Christmas is alternately corny, campy, and clever, with enough in-jokes to delight Spider-Man aficionados but not so many as to spoil the fun for those less familiar with the Marvel Comics oeuvre.
Still, with an overall two-hour-or-so running time, each of A Spider-Man Christmas’s two acts could benefit from a ten-minute trim, and like other plays still in need of tweaking, it seems to be ending two or three times before it actually ends.
A tighter directorial hand could also sharpen some supporting performances, Billy’s off-key “singing” would be funnier if not quite so off-key, and the country hick trio might be better as “DVD Extras.”
Still, if nothing else, A Spider-Man Christmas scores plenty of points for holiday originality and truth be told, I laughed hard and hearty from start to finish. (Never have the two words “It bends” been uttered so often or to such hilarious effect.)
Camerons Parker and Rose, along with Anderson, Haaker, Tropper, and Wells, are all recent graduates of the highly esteemed Pacific Conservatory Of The Performing Arts, and the quality of PCPA’s 2-Year Actor Training Program is on display in the thoroughly professional work they do on the Mosaic Lizard stage.
Parker could not make for a more infectiously winning Peter/Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield lookalike Rose is delightful both as Captain America and The President Of The United States, Wells radiates star quality as redhead-next-door Mary Jane (and has fun playing her à la Tennessee Williams in Act Two), a fine Anderson manages to convince us that her folksy Aunt May is two-to-three times her age, and Haaker proves a delicious scene-stealer as the dastardly (and ever so theatrical) Doctor Doom. As for Tropper, the Best Lead Actor Scenie winner once again combines stage presence and comedic flair to make J. Jonah Jamenson’s every appearance a hoot.
Non PCPA-ers Stratton (cute and engaging as Gwen), Jay Parker (terrific as Harry’s dad Norman and Peter’s Uncle Ben slash Clarence stand-in), and most especially the charismatic Suarez as Harry and Hobgoblin provide terrific support.
Dominic Duran (Mortimer), Greg Langner (Cooter, Vulture), Ryan Perez (Eustice), Ryan Roeder (Billy Conners), Sergio Venegas (Construction Worker, Rhino), and Jordan Warren (Trigger) play their smaller roles with enthusiasm if not the finesse and precision of the leading players.
Rich Rose’s colorful scenic design gives A Spider-Man Christmas just the right comic book look, and the scene-changing sliding panel is an ingenious touch. Terrance Gutierrez’s lighting design is fairly basic but it does the trick, as does his very good sound design. Writer/co-director Parker scores bonus points for his mood-setting original music. Costumes and props are uncredited, but they too fit the bill, with none other but the Alhambra Chamber Of Commerce’s Around Alhambra standing in for the Daily Bugle.
With so many A Christmas Carols, It’s A Wonderful Lifes, Nutrackers, and other Christmas chestnuts filling local stages every December, it’s refreshing to find out-of-the-ordinary holiday fare this time of year.
A Spider-Man Christmas: A Satire is about as out-of-the-ordinary as a Christmas show can get, and if it’s not the most polished play or production in town, it most certainly is a crowd-pleaser, and isn’t that just what Santa ordered?
*Some names or spellings have been altered since this is, after all, A Spider-Man Christmas: A Satire.
Mosaic Lizard Theater, 112 W. Main St., Alhambra.
December 14, 2104