The arguments presented in Fuck Christmas Plays are absolutist, naive and terribly flawed. I’m cracking my knuckles in anticipation of knocking them all into oblivion.
To distrust anyone in the arts with commercial motives pretty much disqualifies everyone but pianist Glenn Gould, who said the ideal relationship of artist to audience is one to zero (saying that the artist should "be permitted to operate in secret, as it were, unconcerned with - or better still, unaware of - the presumed demands of the marketplace")(Mr. Gould had Asperger's, by the way). Every artist needs to eat. Every theatre has operating costs. If they can get people in the door at Christmas by presenting seasonal fare, that can keep them afloat to present other stuff the rest of the year. Increased attendance in December can build an audience for other plays - plays of originality and daring and depth, which wouldn’t be possible without the reliable income of a sure-fire Christmas show. Kevin Spacey subsidizes his theatre work with the occasional crappy film. George Clooney alternates between puffy Hollywood stuff and art house work. Steve Martin follows that pattern too. And Johnny Depp. One pays for the other. Art in a system with a high overhead works like that.
Also, something created with purely commercial motives can still hit the bullseye. Singin’ in the Rain - certainly one of the greatest films ever made - came about because a producer had the rights to a bunch of unrelated songs and wanted to stuff them all into the same musical. Young Frankenstein wound up with the inspired casting of Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle and Marty Feldman because the same agent represented all three of them. Conversely, art created with only the highest personal ideals can turn out dreary, stiff and empty, no matter how experienced the creators, and how unfettered they might be in terms of creative control. Ever see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?
As you graciously admit, you don’t know any of the people involved in those Chicago Christmas productions you listed, and you don’t know their motives. But no matter what their motives are, isn’t that their business? Doesn’t any artist have the right to create whatever they’d like? If you don’t like plays about Christmas, don’t write one. Don’t act in one. Don’t attend one. To hector anyone for speaking on any subject is a step toward censorship. If Christmas plays are flimsy pieces of commercial cardboard, let the audience decide that. If they don’t like them, they’ll stop coming back year after year.
But that’s the thing: they do come back year after year. The sheer abundance of productions of A Christmas Carol (and, by extension, any other play/movie/TV special that has the theme of someone discovering “the true spirit of Christmas”) says that it’s become one of our central myths as a culture. People are clearly interested in telling it again and again and hearing it again and again, just like the ancient Greeks never tired of seeing someone recite The Odyssey. If some of these productions are less heartfelt than you might like, that makes the case all the stronger: even poorly told, the story still speaks to something deep within in its audience.
And when a story attains the status of cultural myth, some adventurous souls inevitably start to take it apart, turn it upside down, and see what they can do to breathe new life into it. Here’s are a few other productions of A Christmas Carol playing in the windy city this month (which you neglected to list): A Christmas Carl (set in a Texas autobody shop) A Klingon Christmas Carol (performed entirely in the Klingon language, with translation titles projected above the stage), Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge, Redeemers (in which the Bob Cratchit character refuses to believe his boss’s conversion is real and sets about pulling a series of increasingly cruel pranks to see if he’ll revert to his old ways). And here are some other holiday themed plays: Black Peter (the main character being an actual figure from Dutch folklore, “Saint Nicholas's menacing, dark-skinned assistant whose punishments to naughty children include stuffing them into sacks, whisking them off to Spain, and beating them with a heavy stick”), Rudolph the Red-hosed Reindeer (in which a slave-driving, money-grubbing Santa forces the citizens of Christmastown into a reality TV show), Shamanic Nativity Trance (“It's Jesus' last night as a human incarnate, and to the Apostles, that means one thing. PAR-TAY! Wine, women, song and more wine! But when Jesus starts becoming more and more of a buzz-kill, his faithful band of Disciples decide to cheer their ole buddy up with their very own reenactment of the miracle of his birth”) and my favourite: The David Bowie Hepzikat Funky Velvet Flarney Solstice Spectacular Live... from Space! (“Ziggy Stardust gets a Christmas show of his own--broadcast live from outer space. Gender-bending rockers, drugs, and glitter abound. Strung between crowd-pleasing hits, the thin plot involves a battle between Bowie and his evil alter ego, Bizarro Bowie, for dominance as the weirdest rocker in space”). Far from stuffing all good theatre folk into a little red and green box, the Christmas season has inspired many artists to new heights of subversive and entertaining creativity.
And there are also plenty of plays in those listings that don’t touch on the holiday season at all, for any crusty old Scrooges who feel a hankering for some live drama in the month of December.
So keep doing Christmas plays, everyone! Do ‘em traditional, do ‘em all crazy and new! Or don’t. Do something else, if you prefer. Do what you want! Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn’t say with your art! Give the people their taste of mythology (if you so desire) and have a good time doing it! And may the gods of the theatre bless us, every one!