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'1222 Oceanfront: A Black Family Christmas' returns to Oceanside venue

By Cassiopeia Guthrie, December 21, 2022

There's something so relatable and warm about localized theatre, and such is the case with New Village Arts' short run of 1222 Oceanfront: A Black Family Christmas. Following its full run in winter 2021, this iteration of Dea Hurston's original work has returned as a limited engagement, hitting 5 venues over 9 performance dates and closing on Dec. 24.

Directed by Jacole Kitchen and created and devised by Frankie J. Alicea, Kevin "Blax" Burroughs, Milena (Sellers) Phillips, and Dea Hurston, the show takes place over a single evening at the Black family residence in Carlsbad, California. As Dorothy Black's two adult sons James Jr. and Javier arrive at their family Christmas Eve celebration (to which their partners are also invited), they find themselves wrestling with a 30-year promise, an emotional connection to the past (and specifically how it was shaped by their late father's Christmas traditions) and interpersonal relational tension. Relying on dramatic irony, all-too-familiar family melodrama, and the unfolding saga of Victor's Las Vegas gondola, the script is witty and fun.

Despite being set more as a staged read with limited blocking and the use of scripts, music stands, and chairs, the actors have great chemistry with one another. Of particular note were the relationship between James Jr. (Domo D'Dante) and his wife of three years, Aadya (Deja Fields), the juvenile one-upmanship between the two brothers (D'Dante and Marc Caro), and the bantering between Dorothy (co-creator Phillips) and her sister, Lizzie (Portia Gregory). These five are joined and complemented by Grandison M Phelps III as James Sr. and Victor, Anthony Bell as Brian, and Ahmed Kenyatta Dents as the Narrator. Also making an appearance is... well... a Santa Urn filled with a loved one's ashes, which earns some laughter when it emerges and again when it leaves.

Although the production's quippy one liners receive authentic chuckles throughout and the sentimental moments had me tearing up a bit (acceptable, I hear, since character Victor informs us that emotional tears, like stomach gas, have more room out than in), I wonder at the decision to include the full range of original and adapted holiday tunes and to call it a "concert." While some songs were truly lovely, others could have used some polish before hitting the stage and the qualities of the production are really more closely aligned with being a staged read rather than a concert.

That said, if a feel-good, love-cup filling show is what you're looking for, this one just might hit the spot.

1222 Oceanfront: A Black Family Christmas runs at New Village Arts through Saturday, Dec. 24.

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