My understanding is that Christmas, the actual birthdate of Jesus of Nazareth, was changed to December, all the better to eclipse pagan solstice celebrations. It should come as no surprise that there are numerous feasts, rituals, narratives and sacraments attached to the Winter Solstice. The longest night of the year, when the harvest is safely stored, and the earth itself hibernates under a blanket of snow. In the spirit of inclusiveness, Theatre 3 has constructed Solstice, a kind of revue, in which an ensemble invites our participation in the wonder of the supernatural, the pantheistic, the giddy world of sprites and sorcery, a kind of pastiche of various traditions intersecting in the strange magic that comes with the first frissons of winter. Rather than succumbing to the Western preoccupation with Judeo-Christian culture, Solstice suggests other kinds of worship. A different angle on the curious and endlessly enigmatic world around us.
Aunt Brighid is babysitting her niece when the electricity goes out, and they must light a candle to ward off the darkness. Conversation turns to the beguiling and intoxicating charms available to humanfolk only under the cover of darkness. The Girl asks her Auntie if they can explore this forbidden, irresistible realm, and Brighid concedes. But with the proviso that when stories are shared, lives intertwine, whether we want them to or not. They enter the forest where they encounter various non-human entities, all with their role to play in the balance between nature and cosmological imperatives. Since this journey is treated as enlightenment for the girl, Solstice is childlike, which may or may explain the use of puppetry. Puppets are certainly not exclusive to children’s theatre, but here it may have set the wrong tone.
Several anecdotes had the panache of the unexpected. An elderly couple still vibrant enough to make a picnic in the woods, where they could kiss and enjoy a buzz from hydrocodone. An Italian witch who must atone for snubbing her invitation to join The Three Magi. A frantic narrative from the protagonist of Poe’s The Telltale Heart, woven (rather perversely) with traditional Christmas Carols. Some of these endeavors manage better than others. Paulette and Stuart (perhaps in their winter years?) fall under the spell of stars and deep night, steeped in transgression and giddy, celebratory playtime.
Le Befana gets a lot of punch from Italian peasant shtick: “The gravy’s not going to stir itself.” A Poe Man’s Christmas Carol was something of a reach. The impulse to undercut the quaint and customary with the irreverent and mischievous is a sound one, but as a whole, Solstice didn’t altogether coalesce. Ironically, the epilogue in which the niece, left on her own, casts a spell from the serendipitous altar of her bed, was marvelously effective.
The idea behind T3’S Solstice was deliciously subversive, an attempt to recover ancient cultures and adoration tread upon by Christian imperialism. Perhaps to err on the side of caution, the spectacle feels deferential, considering we come to the theatre to partake of the unrevealed, the otherworldly, the less presentable. Hints at the realms beyond were pervasive, but perhaps too understated. That being said, there was lots of merriment and warmth. The gleeful and the bizarre. Wassail was served at the end of the first act, and it was clear the ensemble was there to give us a splendid, entertaining journey.
Theatre 3 presents: Solstice: Stories and Songs for the Holidays, November 24th-December 17th, 2017. 2800 Routh Street, Suite 168, Dallas, Texas 75201-1417. 214-871-3300. theatre3dallas.com.