BWW Review: Firecracker Productions' ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE Is Not the 'Night Before Christmas' You Expect
In the thick of the holiday season, there are generally two camps of seasonal shows in the repertoire of our Houston theatre scene: those that indulge the festive, heartfelt genre of holiday classics, and those that provide an alternative. While I am partial to the former (Yes, I also enjoy the cheesy Hallmark movies. We all have our flaws), I was looking forward to spending an evening with Firecracker Productions' edgier, less-traditional Christmas tale.
ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE was written by Eric James for Firecracker Productions, a five-year-old theatre company here in Houston. The set-up is splendid: a forty-minute immersive experience set on the night before Christmas in a real Airbnb in Sawyer Heights, decked out with live music on the front porch and all the cozy Christmas décor inside.
I felt I got lucky with how well-thought out my first immersive theatre experience was, as I know not all immersive shows are as easily navigated. Props to the team at Firecracker for thinking through the semantics of guiding a full audience through the charming little house, with simple directional signs and a candy-cane drawing to divide us into two smaller groups. Each group saw one-half of the total story first, and after a brief intermission proceeded to see the other half.
Unfortunately, that is where my praise ends for this production that was suitable in theory, but fell short in execution. While I had high hopes leading up to the show due to the festive atmosphere, cheery live music, and holiday drinks and cookies, the entrance of the first character, St. Nick (Jarred Popoff), brought that momentum to a screeching halt.
It was not the fact that Santa was cursing and spouting dirty jokes at the characters and the audience that put me off. In fact, I tend to find that genre of humor downright hilarious when it is clever or done well. Every so often we would hear a joke that generated laughter among the crowd, but too often Santa's sassy remarks and risqué flirtation were met with half-hearted reactions rather than the cheerful belly laughs it seems they were going for. For the most part for me, the jokes felt unearned and the feisty quips generally felt cheap.
After meeting St. Nick, the audience was split via candy-cane selection to view one of two scenes in the house's bedrooms: the two fathers as they prepared presents for their children, or the children themselves. The two Dads (Allen Titel and Nolan LeGault) are putting the finishing touches on their children's presents as they reminisce on their family's past year and their relationship as a whole.
Travel next-door from that bedroom, and you'll find the two children (Paige Thomas and Eduardo Ramirez) excitedly anticipating Santa's visit to their house, pondering their placement on the Nice or Naughty lists, and asking the most meaningful question (to children, at least): Is Santa real?
The framework of the story doesn't sound half bad, right? It's sweet and relatable to say the least. However, I again found that the dialogue throughout tended to feel unnatural and mismatched with who the characters were coming across as. To be fair, it is difficult as an adult actor to convincingly play a child, but their physicality and vocal choices just didn't seem to work.
While I felt that the content of ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE was underwhelming, the box it comes in is intriguing, endearing, and certainly something I hope Firecracker might try again next year. Faults aside, it was a different experience from any holiday show I've seen before. If you are interested in an unconventional night of theatre, there's no harm in giving this show a try, and perhaps you'll find humor and entertainment where I didn't.
Photo by Kelsey McMillan.
ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE continues performances to December 14th at 2215 Union St. in Houston. Visit firecrackerproductions.org for tickets and more information.