An odd lot of holiday theater

A VERY MERRY UNAUTHORIZED CHILDREN’S SCIENTOLOGY PAGEANT at Red Orchid Theatre. This show is exactly what the title says. Actual children perform a holiday pageant that looks like an old-fashioned (if very well produced and performed) school play. But the subject of their tribute is L. Ron Hubbard rather than the baby Jesus or Santa Claus. This play seems to be gaining momentum as a hip alternative to more traditional Yule shows (maybe folks got tired of doing David Sedaris). It’s the second year Red Orchid’s done the show, and this year Red Orchid has competition from yet another version of Very Merry, opening soon at Next Theatre in Evanston. The kids doing the show at Red Orchid are a very talented bunch, and it’s hilarious and occasionally disturbing to see them acting out the story and concepts of Scientology. I’m sure the Church of Scientology does not approve. Besides being incredibly entertaining, this hour-long show does a smart job of exposing hypocrisy. Highly recommended. Through Jan. 3.

REDMOON THEATRE WINTER PAGEANT. Here’s another holiday show that’s out of the ordinary, as you would expect from the imaginative wizards at Redmoon. Mostly wordless, this show is a series of wondrous sketches involving a giant baby, a struggle over pieces of desert, pirates, a silhouette scene created with an overhead projector, and some sort of small glowing objects that one man makes the mistake of eating. There’s a beautiful section of the show that takes place underwater — or, at least, it seems like the auditorium is down in the deep sea, as guys in diving suits blow bubbles and fish swim through the air. A good show for the whole family. Some kids may find it all a little weird, but what’s wrong with that? Through Dec. 27.

SOUVENIR at Northlight Theatre. The idea of sitting through a whole play about a bad singer — a really, really bad singer — doesn’t sound appealing. However, Stephen Temperley’s play turns out to be a modestly pleasing comedy with some subtle turns. It’s based on a true story. There really was a woman named Florence Foster Jenkins, who somehow failed to grasp how off-key her singing was and insisted on performing concerts and making records anyway. Neva Rae Powers is clearly a more talented singer than the character she plays, but she manages to stay off-key through one excruciating tune after another, often to great comic effect. Mark Anders creates a lot of the humor in his role as Jenkin’s piano accompanist, who can’t believe what he’s hearing. The play raises interesting questions about the compromises that artists often find themselves forced to make. And it’ll make you think about what exactly is it that makes a good singer. Through Dec. 20.

THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP at Court Theatre. Two actors (Erik Hellman and Chris “Sully” Sullivan) play a whole castful of characters in this campy satire of horror stories, and that’s half the fun of it. Watching Hellman and Sullivan slip offstage and then hurry back in a different costume is truly delightful and frequently hilarious. (And the last part of the show includes a cool tribute to the backstage folks who make this show run like clockwork.) If you get a kick out of the silliness of Monty Python’s members dressing up as ladies — or the general zaniness of British pantomime shows — Irma Vep will sink its fangs into you. Playwright Charles Ludlam’s script about vampires, werewolves and mummies is filled with groan-inducing puns and double entendres, as well as lots of ludicrous plot devices that poke fun at ludicrous plot devices. Directed by Sean Graney, Hellman and Sullivan carry it all off with delicious accents, unrestrained slapstick and a deep appreciation of the absurd. Through Dec. 13.

(Red Orchid, Northlight and Court Theatre photos by Michael Brosilow.)

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