Prepare to smile at amusing, poignant ‘Christmas Shorts’

Las Vegas Little Theatre Studio’s "Christmas Shorts" is a simple, gentle surprise.

Matt Hoverman’s five vignettes deal with very different people coping with the holidays. One married couple (played by TJ Larsen and Stacia Zinkevich) vow to stay home, but the young wife doesn’t seem to understand that her real family is her husband. Two mid-30s frat brothers (Larsen and Thomas Chrastka), who haven’t yet grown out of adolescence, plan a rowdy evening together, until an ex-girlfriend (Zinkevich) intrudes. Two people who appear to be Biblical characters, Mary (Katie Bulava) and Joseph (the ever-amusing Chrastka), meet at the Bethlehem, Pa., Fertility Clinic and become blessed with an unexpected miracle.

You get the idea.

The script is loaded with low-key, sweet humor, and directors Larsen and Walter Niejadlik frequently give it space to breathe. You smile a lot.

Niejadlik — who spends much of his time directing and being board president — gets to show off his considerable acting chops. He’s marvelously understated and yet very clear in the role of a teacher who is put in the awkward position of evaluating a student’s very personal essay. Niejadlik becomes the character without flash, without calling attention to the skill involved.

Larsen, however, does not play eccentric well. He can be a subtle actor, but when he plays broad comedy, his forced physical mannerisms upstage his role. In the frat brothers sketch, it’s Chrastka who comes across as real because he’s able to achieve comic effects without sacrificing his status as a human being.

Zinkevich is powerfully sensual as the girlfriend who disrupts the "boys." The moment she enters, you know she has the drive and callowness to get whatever she wants.

The studio theater is small, but the stage has been made merry. You feel good looking at this show.

"Christmas Shorts" is not a major happening, but it is an hourlong pleasantry. It’s as amusing as it is poignant. And Niejadlik, as an actor, has never been more genuine.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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