With the coming of the holiday season in Asheville, there are many traditions within the world of local theater. Montford Park Players has staged A Christmas Carol for many years: It’s a time-honored way for audiences to celebrate the season. The Magnetic Theatre, however, has staked out the opposite territory in its annual offering.
For nearly a decade, the theater company has offered an annual peek into the lives of one infamous family: the Bernsteins. The Magnetic Theatre proudly describes the play as “an ideal family celebrates the holidays with booze, sex, recreational drug use and a complete lack of shame or propriety.” Fa-la-ooh-la-la.
This year, The 25th Annual Bernstein Family Christmas Spectacular opens Thursday, Nov. 29. Be forewarned — performances sell out.
Never mind the “25th annual” part of the title. Never mind that last year was the “34th annual” show. There have been many numerical Bernstein shows over nine years. What is important is that, despite changes in management at The Magnetic Theatre in the past year, the popular production goes on.
The Magnetic Theatre’s new artistic co-director Andrew Gall (who teams with Katie Jones) refers to the show as “an ode to the TV specials of yesteryear, with the dysfunctional Bernstein clan doing a variety of skits as they pay a twisted kind of homage to beloved Christmas traditions.”
Just how twisted are those skits?
“This show is absolutely for adults only,” Gall says, “and only for those who are willing to go along for a ride with some delightfully depraved individuals.” So, maybe not for the especially sensitive or easily offended.
“The initial idea behind the Bernsteins was to create a Christmas show that wasn’t the typical fare — something a little more fun, exciting, drunken and raucous, and it’s such an honor that local audiences have responded so positively to the show,” says producer Chall Gray. “The great thing about starting the show from scratch every year is that we always get to push the envelope in new directions.”
That means unlike many holiday staples — those with dialogue so familiar the audience can recite it along with the actors — each year’s Bernstein Family staging is an original production. New sketches and new family members are added as needed from year to year.
“The show is, as always, written completely anew by the writing team,” says Gray, “and we even have a couple of new surprises this year that will surprise even long-standing attendees.”
This year’s play is written by Peter Lundblad, Jim Julien, Genevieve Packer and Lucia Del Vecchio Gray, who also serves as this season’s director.
But it’s not a complete do-over. Audiences will see familiar faces from previous Bernstein exploits, such as stars Tracey Johnston-Crum and Darren Marshall, who have been staples throughout all nine years of the R-rated romp. Erik Moellering has been a part of the cast for eight years, and Glenn Reed has been there for seven. With only two years under her belt, Sarah Felmet rounds out the cast this year.
The show has garnered something of a cult following, and the late-night showings are legendary for being even more raucous than their early-evening counterparts. To set the tone, “It’s the Christmas show for people who are intrigued by the idea of Baby Jesus being a grown man with a flask of vodka hidden in his diaper,” says Gray.
WHAT: The 25th Annual Bernstein Family Christmas Spectacular
WHERE: The Magnetic Theatre, 375 Depot St., themagnetictheatre.org
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 29-Saturday, Dec. 15. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. with 10 p.m. showings on Fridays and Saturdays after the first weekend. $27