By Luna Oliveira
Driving across downtown in any direction of I-10, the city’s skyline appears like the rough edge of the shell that holds one of Houston’s most valuable pearls: the Catastrophic Theatre. Funded by locally-owned tattoo shops, restaurants and even the city’s symphony, The Catastrophic Theatre is one of a kind. With Houston’s theatre district now standing as the number two in the United States, only behind New York City with Broadway, The Catastrophic theatre has been providing entertainment without targeting the masses by producing a number of original works. A total of 12 out of the 25 productions have been written by in-house playwrights. In an age overrun by copycats and imitations, Catastrophic Theatre stands out as a bastion of Houstonian creativity.
The Catastrophic Theatre, formed in 2007 by Jason Nodler and Tamarie Cooper, is a breath of fresh air in the theatre scene and, like any respectable theatre that gathers followers, has its own traditions. Every summer, when Houston becomes an oven and everyone gives in to central air-conditioning, the Catastrophic Theatre presents Tamarie Cooper’s very own musicals. With herself as the main character, Tamarie brings the audience a relatable snapshot of her life–illustrating the pains, happiness and randomness of being human.
The summer of 2014 is nothing different. Titled “A Very Tamarie Christmas,” this summer’s Tamarie Cooper musical can be expected by long-time followers to be just as crazy and loud as last year’s Tamarie ventures. The first thing that went through my head when I heard about the show was “Wait, so Tamarie Cooper is talking about Christmas? Tamarie Cooper? The inappropriately genius, dick-joke delivering Tamarie Cooper?”
The average theatregoer, who has never seen any of the previous showings of Tamarie’s soul, might expect a simple Christmas show in the middle of July–a not so uncommon phenomena in theatre. With stores barely a month away from placing Christmas decorations in storefront windows, the festivities of the holiday could be extended through the middle of the year–and how great would that be?
However, the Tamarie Cooper Christmas show is not your average Christmas show, nor is it your average musical. When entering the warehouse-turned-theatre space, you find an enormous picture-frame-like structure with the band sitting behind it. The band is a part of the show, decorated as the performance goes along. The Christmas theme is unified in the set: with a Christmas tree, giant presents and Christmas stockings hanging from the fireplace.
When the show starts, the stage is flooded with the cast dressed appropriately for Christmas time. Ugly sweaters, Santa Claus, and even Jesus dance together until Tamarie comes out to speak about her long-time desire to make a Christmas musical. She is interrupted by several members of the cast who stop her from speaking about Christmas. Their complaints are many: I am Jewish, I am Buddhist, I am atheist–and in the politically correct world, you don’t want to piss them off (or make them feel excluded).
Tamarie and the cast end the number celebrating a non-denominational fest–politically correct and gluten-free: a secular commemoration of an unspecified event. Due to being continuously rejected, Christmas gives up and decides to not be a holiday anymore. Tamarie then goes on to find another holiday that will satisfy the joys of Christmas.
The audience is taken on a quick costume-changing, rapid choreographic dancing and impeccable note-hitting journey through all major and smaller holidays. They find the ups and the downs about each time of the year: Easter, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July and Presidents’ Day have been sold out to consumerism in an attempt to reach larger audiences. The sales targeting the holidays and events being sponsored by big corporations marketing their image around people’s beliefs have become a part of modern life in the United States and abroad.
“A Very Tamarie Christmas” is an awakening to everything society has recently defined as problematic or inappropriate. It draws the line between customs and values–at one moment the family is sitting around the table celebrating Thanksgiving, but when dinner is over, everybody runs to catch Black Friday sales. Tamarie Cooper has been able to write a politically correct show that is as offensive as flags on boobs, as inappropriate as twerking Easter bunnies and as educational as Arbor Day.
The show illustrates how we keep holidays alive out of habit and, as we find out throughout the show: there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe, even as we decry all of the consumerism and discrimination in Christmas, we still cannot deny that it is the best holiday of them all.
As guaranteed by The Catastrophic Theatre themselves, this will be the first Christmas special we will see all year (beating even the holiday rush). “A Very Tamarie Christmas” will be playing Thursday, Friday and Saturdays from July 18 through August 30 for the price of pay-what-you-can ($25 suggested).