Bristol theater is in the holiday spirit, Rhode Island-style

The Bristol Theatre Company’s nontraditional holiday production has plenty of laughs and local color

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 12/13/19

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Santa Claus was actually a member of an extended Rhode Island-based Italian American family including a younger back-up-plan brother Ant’ny, an …

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Bristol theater is in the holiday spirit, Rhode Island-style

The Bristol Theatre Company’s nontraditional holiday production has plenty of laughs and local color

Posted

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Santa Claus was actually a member of an extended Rhode Island-based Italian American family including a younger back-up-plan brother Ant’ny, an overbearing mother-in-law, and a wife who never puts down her glass of Christmas cheer?

No? Well, you aren’t alone. But local comedian Frank O’Donnell did, and the result is “Ant’ny Claus: A Dysfunctional Family Christmas.” The premise: if Santa gets sick, who takes over? In this case, it’s his younger brother Ant’ny.

Begun as a part of Mr. O’Donnell’s holiday stand-up routine, Ant’ny has taken on a life of its own, with several versions performed around the state in recent years. It’s a departure from traditional holiday fare, but it’s a fun one. “We’ve done ‘Christmas Carol,’ we’ve done ‘A Wonderful Life,’ this is different for us,” said Bristol Theatre Company Chairman Marie Knapman.

Part of the proceeds from the show will be going to the Keri Ann Memorial Foundation, named in honor of Mr.  O’Donnell’s 15-year-old daughter, who was killed in a car accident on I-95 in Richmond in 2010. “He raises money for kids who like to do the things she loved, like theater and dance,” said Ms. Knapman.

The show doesn’t leave too many of the clichéd Italian-American characterizations on the table, but along with plenty of local references, they play for a lot of good laughs (and are pretty spot-on, too.) Local celebrity cameos, including Barbara Morse Silva, Anthony Macari, and Chelsea Priest will feature in upcoming productions, maintaining the fun Rhode Islander-insider vibe.

The action occurs exclusively in Ant’ny’s living room on Christmas Eve, with a cast of characters, from Ant’ny’s kids to carolers to a Ghost of Christmas Past parading through while Ant’ny grows increasingly frustrated by the fact that his hotline, announcing that it’s his turn to be Santa for the year, never rings. At one point, Ant’ny pulls the line out of the wall in frustration, but it’s soon fixed, denying any real payoff to what could have been a game-changing act of self-sabotage. It makes for a somewhat flat narrative arc — a good metaphor for Ant’ny’s sit-by-the-phone-and-wait existence.

Strong performances, and some of the biggest laughs, are delivered by Samantha Brilhante as Ant’ny’s sharp-tongued, all-hearing mother-in-law Carmella Senior; Bill Bullard as Ant’ny’s overgrown right-hand elf Bruno; Allii Fontaine as reindeer Bennie Blue Balls, Rudolph’s endearing sibling; Christina Myers as Carmella Claus; and Bobby Ricci as Ant’ny.

The show will run this coming weekend, Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 12 to 14. Tickets are $20, and the BTC is also serving as a drop-off point for the Warmest Soles holiday collection of new socks for those in need, if guests would like to bring a pair to the performance. For more information and tickets, visit www.bristoltheatrecompany.org.

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