BWW Interview: Playwright Phil Olson Talks A TWISTED CHRISTMAS CAROL
This interview is directed to playwright Phil Olson, so tremendously popular for his Don't Hug Me series of musicals. His new play A Twisted Christmas is about to open Upstairs at the Group Rep on December 14.
Tell our readers about your A Twisted Christmas Carol. When you say that it is the Dickens tale Texas style, what exactly do you mean? Is there a lot of the humor of Don't Hug Me and its characters in this piece?
PO: A Twisted Christmas Carol is a Texas spoof of Charles Dickens' classic story, "A Christmas Carol."
It's Christmas Eve in a small west Texas town and cantankerous barbecue joint owner Buford Johnson gets in an argument with his wife, Darla, tells her he's skipping Christmas, he storms out of the restaurant, goes four wheeling in his pickup, gets hit by a twister, rolls his truck and goes into a coma. He comes back in his dream where he's visited by ex-business partner and barbecue king, Hank Walker, who plays the ghost of Christmas past, present, and future. Hank takes Buford (Scrooge) on a journey similar to that in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" only Texas style.
I used quite a lot of the humor from the Don't Hug Me musicals in A Twisted Christmas Carol. One of the differences is A Twisted Christmas Carol is set in a small town in Texas while the Don't Hug Me musicals are set in a small town in northern Minnesota.
I understand that your show is playing in other states this Christmas? Tell us where.
PO: A Twisted Christmas Carol will open and play in 8 cities concurrently this year. The theatre groups and cities are: 1) Town Players, Watertown, South Dakota, 2) High Desert Center for the Arts, Victorville, California, 3) Port Arthur Little Theatre, Port Arthur, Texas, 4) Alton Little Theatre, Alton, lllinois, 5) Hill Country Community Theatre, Cottonwood Shores, Texas, 6) Indian Valley Theatre, Sandwich, Illinois, 7) Trinidad Community Theatre, Trinidad, Colorado, 8) The Group Rep Theatre, North Hollywood, California.
Is this the first Christmas show that you have written or have there been others?
PO: I'm a big fan of Christmas stories. A Twisted Christmas Carol is the third Christmas show I've written. The others are A Nice Family Christmas and A Don't Hug Me Christmas Carol.
Is there music in this show? If so, are the songs parodies of well known carols?
PO: A Twisted Christmas Carol is a play with one parody song. We have a few short verses of a couple popular Christmas songs, but A Twisted Christmas Carol would be best considered a play, more specifically a fun parody of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
Your comedies are very popular and well received. What is your secret for writing successful comedic pieces?
PO: I'm not sure if I have any secrets with my writing. They say to write what you know, and I tend to write about my experiences growing up in an emotionally reserved Scandinavian household in Minnesota. My father would tell us he was the Norwegian who loved his wife so much, he almost told her. We never hugged growing up and I never once heard any family member say "I love you." Not once. The thing is, I never felt that my parents didn't love each other or the kids. I just assumed that they did. When I learned how strange it was to never hug or say the "L" word, I started to write about it. My stories tend to be about relationships dealing with a lack of communication, affection and emotions, and the comedy in that, and how, ultimately, it's okay to hug or say, "I love you."
When my stories started playing all over the country and internationally, I realized that people all over the world could relate to these issues. It wasn't just a regional Minnesota/Scandinavian thing. With A Twisted Christmas Carol, I brought the same sensibility I experienced growing up to a small town in west Texas. Because so many theatres around the country are producing the play this year, the experiences I had growing up in Minnesota seem to translate well to a small town in west Texas.
Is there a final comment you care to make?
PO: I hope that audiences enjoy A Twisted Christmas Carol as much as I enjoyed writing it. A big thank you to all those who support live theatre!
A Twisted Christmas plays December 15 - January 12. Saturdays at 4:00 pm. Sundays at 7:00 pm. Talk-backs after Sunday shows 12/21 and 01/04. For tickets and information: www.thegrouprep.com or (818) 763-5990. Upstairs at the Group Rep on the second floor of the Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood 91601. The Upstairs venue is not handicapped accessible.