Masters of Revels

The Renaissance vs. the darkness

By Christian Carvajal on December 5, 2014

Winter solstice is big news around these parts. Olympia Family Theater is halfway through its run of How the Slug Stole Solstice, a charming little musical about a gastropod who's scared of the dark. Now Puget Sound Revels and the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts present their 22nd annual Christmas Revels. This year, the theme is "in Celebration of the Winter Solstice." What's to celebrate? I hope most of us have evolved past any superstitious crusade to cajole Apollo the Sun God into returning. From where I sit, the winter solstice is just that dreary time of year when the moon rises over the Great Northwest at 4 in the afternoon - but hey, maybe that's why it's so significant here. We're enveloped by the coming and going of the seasons, especially as they relate to darkness, perpetual drizzle, and eight-dollar coffee-based beverages.

I digress. The fact is, if you need a shot of tonic for your seasonal affective disorder, both shows are good for what ails you. Joann Varnell extolled the virtues of OFT's invertebrate showcase, so I'll focus on Christmas Revels. It's based on a centuries-old English tradition in which community players, artisans, and children come together to present a vaudevillian banquet of festive entertainment. The version put together by Puget Sound Revels includes a cast of more than 60. This year's program begins with the Seattle Brass Ensemble's rendition of a pavane (slow dance song), "La Bataglia," then kicks into high gear a few classical pieces later with an Italian children's game, giratondo. It's set in the Italian Renaissance, which allows such varied diversions as adult and children's choruses, a masque, a tarantella, recitals of Donne and Whitman poems about the Copernican cosmology, and a Bolognese commedia dell'arte skit ("Dottore Takes a Wife"). The show finishes in grand style with a Christmas motet, the popular Sussex Mummers Carol, and Susan Cooper's beloved poem "The Shortest Day." That's just some of the acts - Christmas Revels is an overstuffed stocking full of presents I lack the space to discuss in full. Trust me, it offers something for everyone, especially you.

So don't let these dark days get you down, mio amico. Hop in the Christmas Revels' time machine, journey to the Renaissance, and bask in Salerno's bright, cheerful courtyard. Let a troupe of commedia artists and musicians put a smile on your face. Sing along with a pub song. Wipe away tears from a lush Pater Noster, and kick up your heels to "Madama Doré," a lively canzo a ballo (wedding dance). Have some cocoa. Feel the feels. It's what England's Master of Revels, not to mention Sally the Solstice Slug, would want.

THE CHRISTMAS REVELS, 2 p.m. Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13, 16, and 17, 1 and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 14, Rialto Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, $17-$32, 253.591.5894