For some, Christmas is a joyful deck the halls, jingle bells kind of fun that should last all year round. For others, it's another painful moment on the calendar that needs to be over quickly and never return.
Writer Will Kern must have felt the exact sentiments of those who dread the fa-la-la-la and Noël season when he decided to write the flip side of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol . Hallelujah, a story for the rest of us!
“Hellcab: A Christmas Play” is a funny, poignant and realistic perspective about Christmas. Kern isn't putting down the people who thoroughly immerse themselves during the holiday. Well, maybe just a little, but it's all in good fun.
Look, not everybody has lights twinkling outside their window or will offer you a cup of piping hot cider during those parties where somebody always sports a garish holiday sweater. Sometimes the holidays are lonely and it's a toss up that Christmas brings out the worst and best in people.
Kern's main character soon discovers that revelation. Actor Bob Rusch is the poor schlub who plays the unnamed anti-hero of “Hellcab.”
He has the unsavory pleasure of driving an array of oddball individuals in his cab for one whole day in the brutal Chicago winter. It's cold, it's wet he wants to go home but like many hard working Americans, he needs the cash.
Rusch's character picks up the Clint Eastwood volley of characters: the good, the bad and the oh so damn ugly it hurts your feelings. In a 12-hour period, he comes across a whacked out drug user and his posse, a guy with a heavy grudge against a car salesman, a sexually charged female lawyer and a couple who is dressed incognito.
It's not all of God's rejected children and derelicts with an undeniable odor that bum a ride. The cabbie comes across everyday folk with ordinary dilemmas that might appear familiar.
Like the pregnant couple he picks up where she goes into hysterics and blames him for her current condition. Or the ghetto (un)fabulous couple laying out the drama about their troubled relationship. The driver indirectly advises the girl to dump her man who is ready to give the cabbie a beat down.
But he doesn't, and the driver leaves in one piece. After this debacle, he'll think twice about giving out advice like Dr. Phil.
The only consistency is Rusch's dour behavior throughout the 70-minute production. He starts off annoyed and rightly so as he picks up these buffoons who carry serious issues, but softens toward the end of his journey. He is gruff, obviously miserable and delivers rapid-fire quips to his customers.
“ Hellcab” isn't pretty. It's not for the overly sensitive or for those who have sugar plum fairies dancing in their heads. It's in-your-face, direct and not easily ignored.
I think Dickens would be proud of what Kern wrote – a slice of brutal honesty with some vulnerability and hope thrown in.
After all, it is Christmas.
Sidewalk Studio Theatre is 4150 Riverside Dr., in Burbank. Showtimes: Sun., 7 p.m.; Mon., 8 p.m. For reservations, call (323) 960-4418 or visit www.plays411.com/hellcab.