“Sugar Plum Fairy” at SCR, “Doc Martin 8” on DVD, stocking stuffers

Shannon Holt, Sandra Tsing Loh and Tony Abatemarco in “Sugar Plum Fairy.” Photo by Tania Thompson/SCR.
Shannon Holt, Sandra Tsing Loh and Tony Abatemarco in “Sugar Plum Fairy.” Photo by Tania Thompson/SCR.

Having fun yet? Sandra Tsing Loh’s “Sugar Plum Fairy” (at South Coast Repertory through Dec. 24) is sure to double your pleasure this season whatever your religious preference; despite its Christmasy trappings, it has a multicultural elf aboard its sleigh to celebrate Chanukah and Kwanzaa. In addition to her first-rate abilities as a storyteller, Loh displays a genius for audience involvement here—singalongs, balloons, popcorn and more—that’s bound to pump up the fun quotient for your holidays.

As with Loh’s previous SCR outing, “The Madwoman in the Volvo,” it’s essentially a solo show for three actors; Tony Abatemarco (who’s especially good) and Shannon Holt support Loh playing mother and sister, schoolmates, ballerinas and other characters. Under Bart DeLorenzo’s canny direction, “Fairy” hilariously relates Loh’s adolescent experience auditioning for a dance school production of “The Nutcracker” when she isn’t making local jokes and joshing with the audience.

Speaking of fun, tops among TV shows newly available on home video is “Doc Martin: Series 8” (on DVD and Blu-ray from Acorn Media) with Martin Clunes, Caroline Catz, Ian McNeice, Eileen Atkins and other regulars. Despite the show’s endurance, I’m happy to report they’re all back in fine form, as are the scripts. The set includes 8 episodes, plus a bonus disc. I can also recommend an earlier Clunes program (on DVD from Acorn) equally perfect for binging, the tragicomic “William and Mary” co-starring Julie Graham.

Stocking stuffers worthy of your time: Marcel L’Herbier’s newly-restored 1924 avant-garde fantasy “L’Inhumaine” (available from Flicker Alley in a Deluxe Blu-ray Edition); the Muslim-Jewish romantic comedy “Peace after Marriage” (on DVD from Film Movement); “Family Life (Vida de familia),” a Chilean drama from two of the country’s most acclaimed young filmmakers (on VOD from Monument Releasing.

And still more: Peter Greenaway’s drama of love, death and revenge,“The Pillow Book” (on DVD and Blu-ray from Film Movement Classics); “Susie Blue and the Lonesome Fellas,” an award-winning Retro Western Swing album (available on CD from Seraphic Records).



“Mr. Burns” at Costa Mesa Playhouse, “Appropriate” at Chapman U

Brian Pirnat and Brooke Lewis in “Mr. Burns.” Photo by Amy Lauren Gettys.
Brian Pirnat and Brooke Lewis in “Mr. Burns.” Photo by Amy Lauren Gettys.

Can a play recover from an unsatisfactory first act, one that leaves you frankly wondering, what am I doing here? Absolutely, if Anne Washburn’s “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play” and Branden Jacob-Jenkins’ “Appropriate”—both of which opened in Orange County last weekend—are any indication. Neither of these plays worked at the outset for me; both recovered enough after the first intermission to make me stick around for what were hugely rewarding third acts.

“Mr. Burns” (Alchemy Theatre Co. at Costa Mesa Playhouse through Dec. 16) is an offbeat musical comedy about what could happen to our beloved pop culture after the collapse of society as we know it, inventively directed by Jeff Lowe. The first act features a group of survivors attempting to recall the plot of their favorite episode of “The Simpsons” in bits and pieces, ad nauseum. The bizarre, stylistically different second act does nothing to prepare you for the original mini-musical that forms the finale, which gives you hope for the world in general not to mention the genre of musical theatre.

“Appropriate” (at Chapman University’s Waltmar Theatre through Dec. 9), a family drama about racism and racial violence in America, manages to survive a laborious first act that accomplishes little. It more or less gets to the point in the second act, with the discovery of a shocking photo album that proves a source of humiliation for some family members, and taps into the unlikely humor of the situation to give us a third act that’s nothing short of brilliant, all under the direction of Trevor Biship.

Both plays put talented ensembles through their paces, with Brooke Lewis, Phil Nieto, Emily Lappi and others playing a surprising array of characters with great finesse in “Mr. Burns.” With the exception of McKenna Ryan, who annoyingly shrieks her way through the first act, the cast of “Approriate” (Maggie Dorfman, Madison Gallus et al) proves highly capable. Christopher Scott Murillo’s scenic design for the latter is almost worthy of South Coast Rep.