***RECOMMENDED "Wise Guys: The First Christmas Story" is a new comedy at The Factory Theater which is a bit difficult to categorize, which is one of its many charms. Playwright Chase Wheaton-Werle's script is equal parts history lesson and an examination of multiple religious beliefs plus an adventure tale combined with a regal quest for the divine. If you simply can't stomach the idea of seeing one more Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy or dread the spirits that will visit grumpy old miser Ebenezer Scrooge, then "Wise Guys" is just the holiday show for you. Definitely not a sugary-sweet confection a la "White Christmas" but this is, obviously, the quintessential origin story of why people celebrate Christmas in the first place. 3 SPOTLIGHTS
Wheaton-Werle, who is a Factory Theater Ensemble Member, has noted in the program that he is not a person who is or ever has been strongly guided by faith. Surprisingly, "Wise Guys" can feel, at times, that it was written by someone who has a degree in Theology with a minor in World History. That's a good thing. This play is well researched and touches upon numerous subjects, running the gamut from A (agnosticism) to Z (Zoroastrianism). Perhaps most prescient is the fact that one character questions whether war has ever really ended, and reflects upon the mind-numbingly difficult detail that it is impossible to truly know the exact number of lives lost in the carnage. Just some little tidbits to think upon days later while you are sipping your eggnog or nibbling on a gingerbread man cookie.
Graduate student Rhys (Lizzy Mosher) has recently arrived in Rome and been granted access to do research at the Vatican. Deep within the bowels of a crumbling library there, Rhys is assisted by the elderly archivist Adriano (Harrison Lampert). Eventually discovering the rare ancient text which she hopes to use to decipher the real story regarding the birth of the Christ child, Rhys is alarmed to learn that it is written in Latin, a language she is unfamiliar with. Adriano agrees to be her translator, and as he begins reading aloud, the action comes to life on stage.
Melchior (Josh Razavi), Balthazar (Michael Jones) and Gaspar (Shail Modi), each from vastly different backgrounds and bearing precious gifts, meet by coincidence in the middle of the desert. Joining a caravan of camels, they set out on their journey towards Jerusalem. Along the way, they encounter many obstacles but also receive help from random strangers. Each one of them has a unique special strength which aids them in escaping the dangers that they face. When they discover the Star of Bethlehem, they change course and hurry to arrive at the manger in time.
Razavi is a pure delight as Melchior, both funny and reflective. He is strongest during a monologue, delivered while he is seated alone late at night near a fire, in which he questions not only the fate of his fellow travelers but also that of our very existence. Lampert is equally as entertaining as the crotchety white-haired Adriano. He has the added bonus of getting to play the zany King Herod, which is a total hoot, underscored by a subtle Andrew Lloyd Webber plug.
Arrive early to "Wise Guys" so that you can enjoy the festive holiday decorations in the cozy lobby or grab a seat in one of the super comfy armchairs around the Christmas tree as you await friends to join you. At intermission, indulge in an adult beverage while you watch a collection of mid-1960s stop motion animated television specials on the flat-screen TV behind the bar.
"Wise Guys: The First Christmas Story" continues until December 16, 2023
The Factory Theater is located at 1623 West Howard Street, Chicago, IL
Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM
NO PERFORMANCES THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23 THROUGH SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 26
Tickets: Please visit www.TheFactoryTheater.com or call 312-275-5757
Running time is approximately 2 hours with one intermission