Ready for a Christmas miracle? While I’m not sure audiences can fully prepare for the hilarity that ensues in Joshua Piven’s No Reservations, it is without a doubt a wonderful gift we Philadelphians can receive this holiday season.
Internationally recognized for co-writing the New York Times (among other Times publications) best selling Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook series, local author, television writer, producer, speechwriter, and now playwright Piven has oh-so wonderfully created a modern adaptation of the Christmas story us Western folk know so dear.
“I thought it would be interesting to examine such a traditional story that most people know a little bit; they know the general story. You know, the nativity and Mary and Joseph showing up at the inn and getting turned away and the baby’s born in a barn,” Piven said. “I thought it would be interesting to revisit it with some modern themes and, also, to change the perspective a little so that it’s told from the perspective of the innkeepers rather than the people who are visiting the inn.”
The play is not only a retelling of the Christmas story, it is also a satirical production that, of course, humorously analyzes the hashtag, Yelp, Perez Hilton, TMZ, and pop culture in general.
“I knew I wanted to cover some of the themes of the early twenty-first century like reality television and the cult of celebrity, social media, Twitter, Facebook, how we share things all the time. I thought it might be fun,” Piven said.
Directed by Allison Heishman, No Reservations begins by introducing the audience to Mr. and Mrs. Harris, a couple who purchased an inn, the Speckled Partridge, off “the Turnpike” somewhere between Lancaster and Bethlehem, PA. Due to a crappy economy and subsequent real estate market, Mr. and Mrs. Harris are not exactly experiencing the best of times financially speaking. While the sassy and mischievous Mrs. Harris, played by Wendy Staton, attempts to come up with ways to raise money for the inn, her good intentions are not matched with fruitful results. Her dry witted, hilarious husband Mr. Harris, played by Jared Michael Delaney, stands idly by in hopes of a brighter future. Also, he hopes to get laid again.
As luck would have it, a pregnant woman who resembles a celebrity shows up at the inn’s doorstep. Yep, that’s right. Our Mary character in the play is actually a young woman named Marie (Mary Beth Shrader) who is traveling back home to Bethlehem with her partner, Martha (Colleen Corcoran). While they are initially asked to leave because it’s Christmas Eve and Mr. and Mrs. Harris are expecting their daughter, Katie (Chelsea Drumel), to be visiting home from college, Mr. Harris caves in and lets the gals stay the night. After Mrs. Harris gives it a bit more thought, she realizes that their pregnant guest of honor looks exactly like a famous singer named Brittany Star who has been missing for about nine months. Star also happens to be a Bethlehem native.
“Mrs. Harris has these different schemes to try and make money… so when this woman shows up who Mrs. Harris thinks is this famous singer who has gone missing and is now pregnant, a lightbulb goes off and she thinks, ‘Oh, we can take pictures of her and put them on the internet and make money by exploiting her celebrity,’” Piven said.
Exploitation and being internet-famous are all themes that are explored within the Christmas setting in No Reservations. The title itself not only reflects the lack of reservations at the Speckled Partridge, but it also suggests the notion that we as internet users lack reservation ourselves.
“One of the themes I display in this play and in another play I’m writing is sort of the Facebook imperative now…What’s interesting to me is how people have this need to share things on Facebook. They want the likes; if they put something up and they don’t get the likes they don’t get the affirmation,” Piven said.
“It’s also people wanting to be famous. I kind of feel like Facebook came around at just the right time because of the reality show phenomenon. The Real Housewives of New Jersey can put their whole life on Facebook anyway and become a Facebook reality star and have a lot of followers. It’s the same thing, really. Those are the things that interested me but I wanted to do it in a funny way.”
To further along this play’s ambition, traditional Christmas story characters are doubled. For example, the Joseph character is actually an inn employee named Joey (Andrew Carroll) who happens to be the only overtly Christian aspect of the story. There is also a Gabriel character, Ángel Gabriél (Brandon Pierce), who is a big shot television producer for TMZ-esque programming. Instead of three wise men we have Tom Wiseman (Brian McCann), a reporter for the New York Times modeled after Tom Friedman. You may interpret these doubles as you wish.
“Basically, what happens, it gets put out by this TMZ type of show that this famous woman who everybody thinks is missing and is now pregnant is staying at this inn and once that gets out into the blogosphere everyone is trying to converge there and take advantage of it for their own personal uses,” Piven said. “There are carolers in the play, also. They add some music – I took the traditional Christmas carols and rewrote them. [The carolers] are comedic and sarcastic, almost like a modern Greek chorus where they move the plot forward and explain certain things.”
Pennsylvania folks, listen up. Because this play is set in southeastern Pennsylvania there are plenty of little references that will make you feel right at home. The Eagles, Comcast, and scrapple are all included, among many others.
Overall, according to Piven No Reservations is a Christmas story and a has a very Christmas feel to it. While there is no Jesus Christ in the play and there are no religious overtones presented, the subject of the story is pretty obvious.
“...It’s clear what the story is. It doesn’t poke fun at the [the Christmas story], it just uses modern themes to explore a more traditional story,” Piven said.
If you are ready to laugh your ass off, this is definitely a play for you. However, if you are expecting a family-friendly tale about the birth of Christ, you’re going to be really surprised. As I was leaving the performance a woman stopped to ask what I thought of No Reservations. I was very happy as my appreciation for pop culture references and risque jokes was completely fulfilled. The woman, on the other hand, did not seem to care for the “blasphemy.”
No Reservations is playing at the Adrienne Theatre until Dec. 15. For tickets and more information about the production visit here.