If there is a single lesson to be learned from both the story of the Chanukah oil and the tale of the birth of Jesus, it is that when all else fails, expect the unexpected. Little wonder, then, that winter holiday shows often take a zany, unpredictable approach to the mash-up of Chanukah and Christmas. Less Than Rent’s first annual holiday pageant, “How LTR Stole Christmas,” combines elf choirs, holiday sweater stripteases, and an unorthodox retelling of the Chanukah story in a broad satire of the holiday season. The show runs for three performances on Tuesday nights in December in the East Village.
James Presson, who co-created the show with Patrick Dooley, founded Less Than Rent (lessthanrent.org) in 2010, taking the troupe’s name from the fact that the company’s entire budget was lower than the rent on the West Village apartment that he shared with friends. The company is known for producing new plays, such as Ben Diserens’ “Beckett in Benghazi” and Presson’s own “Words, Razors and the Wounded Heart.”
Each of the upcoming holiday shows will have a different host and a different title, and each will present a “variety show with theatrical merit,” in Presson’s words, with the object of creating a “realm of messiness … with seriousness and a little poignancy in addition to the accelerated and caffeinated comic retellings of the holiday stories.” The shows are “A Miracle on East 4th Street: A Classic Christmas with RJ and Friends,” “America’s Next Top Virgin Mary Christmas Beauty Pageant (A Tragedy)” and “A Blue Christmas Without Jew.”
Just as each emcee will be looking at what Presson called an “exploded version of his own life,” in order to reflect on the year that has gone by, so the company will relive its own history by recycling many of the costumes and props from recent past productions.
Brandon Zelman, who is Jewish, is hosting the third show, “A Blue Christmas Without Jew,” on Dec. 17. Zelman, who is currently working on a play about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire based on Yiddish poetry from the time period, produced a feature film last summer, “Sandwich Girl,” in which a Jewish couple bond over a pastrami sandwich.
In “Blue Christmas,” while the rest of the cast is putting on a Christmas show, Zelman tries to convert it to one about Chanukah. While both holidays celebrate a miraculous event, Zelman noted, there is something amazing about the holiday show as well — the fact that “people of different backgrounds who were at odds throughout history can connect to, and understand, each other. That’s a miracle too.”
“How LTR Stole Christmas” runs at the Kraine Theatre, 85 E. Fourth St., on Dec. 3, 10 and 17 at 9 p.m. For tickets, $10, call SmartTix at (212) 868-4444 or visit www.smarttix.com.