A Note From The Playwright

For Purely Elfish Reasons has a kind of strange pedigree, as I keep on adapting it for different audiences and venues. It was originally written for an audience of very little children, commissioned by a company that then dissolved before they could produce it. I rewrote the show, adding brand new songs, years later for a six-person ensemble in Bay View’s Alchemist Theatre. (And those six people included the director, stage manager and accompanist, all of whom also played characters in the show and two of whom were me.) This third iteration was customized once again to fit the specifications of a big holiday show at Waukesha Civic Theatre, with a much larger list of characters and twice as many new original songs. I’m very grateful to WCT for allowing this now full-length original musical to continue its slow-but-steady evolutionary path.

Through all of the show’s permutations, the premise has remained consistent. I love the holidays and I love the Marx Brothers. Of course I love other things too, but the comedy of Groucho, Harpo and Chico has something else in common with Christmastime in my brain: They are things that I enjoyed a lot when I was a child AND which I still enjoy today. The holidays to me are all about family – both young and old. So when I found myself in the position of writing a Christmas comedy, it made sense to me to look to the comedians whose humor appealed to me as a young child and still appeals to me as an adult.

When I watch old Marx Brothers movies, I’m in awe of how timeless the material seems. Granted, some of the topical references sail right past my head, I’ll admit that. But their sense of timing, their playful use of language, the absurdity, the physical comedy … those things haven’t aged. It all feels very fresh to me…it’s “classic,” in the best sense of the word.

The idea of recasting the Marx personae as Christmas elves seemed a natural fit, to my mind. I learned after I wrote the show that one of the last projects that Chico, Groucho and Harpo worked on together was a sitcom pilot in which they all portrayed heavenly angels (complete with halos that looked like giant bagels, which Harpo ends up snacking on just a few minutes into the story). So I guess my impulse to cast them as characters from a Christmas song wasn’t too out of the box. It’s just that instead of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” I went with something more out of “Here Comes Santa Claus.”

And from that impulse came For Purely Elfish Reasons, a show in which every single character is an elf who either works in Santa’s workshop or used to…including the Marx stand-ins Jules, Dolly and Lonnie (you can look up the brothers’ real names if you’re curious about those source of those handles). That was the other thing that appealed to me about the premise…I’ve seen shows that featured Christmas elves among the cast before, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one in which EVERY single character had pointy ears. Maybe it’s the Leonard Nimoy fan in me.

In combining the Marx Bros. with the North Pole, my “Christmas wish” is that Elfish has something for everybody. Certainly if you’re a fan of movies like Duck Soup and Night at the Opera, you’ll find some nods and winks, and some redux versions of a few classic sequences to make you smile. But ideally, I very much hope the show also taps into something timeless and classic, so that even if you’re completely unfamiliar with those old films, you’ll still find yourself tickled by the same things that bring a grin to my own lips…Not just the gags and punchlines and slapstick, but also that ineffable holiday spirit, that uniquely Christmas-y warmth that always gives me “comfort and joy” at this time of year.

jason-powellPlease enjoy the show!

Jason Powell

Playwright

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Posted on November 28, 2016, in Mainstage Performance, Waukesha Civic Theatre and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on A Note From The Playwright.

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