Meet the writer/director/star of ‘A Very Tamarie Christmas’
This being July, Catastrophic Theatre can rest easy in its guarantee that "A Very Tamarie Christmas" will be "the first Christmas show you'll see this year."
Anyone familiar with Tamarie Cooper's past outings would likely bet it will be the funniest one, too.
Cooper's annual, original summer musical has become as much a tradition of Houston's entertainment scene as – well, as fruitcake during the holiday season. A good deal more digestible, too.
For the 17th time, Cooper has conceived, directed, choreographed and co-written a zany and freewheeling show that uses a particular topic as its satiric launching pad, then branches out to kid everything else it can work into the general pattern. In past shows, Cooper (who also stars in her creations) and her collaborators (including some of Houston's most original creative and performing talents) have skewered everything from patriotism to parenthood, the pitfalls of love to the workings of the mind.
This summer, the target is Christmas – not just Christmas but all holidays, both the well-known and the relatively obscure.
The show promises the wacky costumes, wild dance numbers and insanity fans have come to expect – plus "all the sparkly holiday trimmings and plastic snow you've been missing!"
Cooper's credits extend well beyond her own shows. For Catastrophic (and its predecessor company, Infernal Bridegroom), she has directed Eugene Ionesco's "Rhinoceros" and starred in works as diverse as Euripides' "Medea," Frank Loesser's "Guys and Dolls" and Samuel Beckett's "Happy Days." Cooper is married to Zach Elkins, a custom furniture designer, and they are the proud parents of Rose, who has won acclaim as "the most wonderful little girl in the whole wide world."
Q: Why Christmas? Don't you have the same love/hate, exhilaration/deflation experience that most of us have with the holidays?
A: I have always loved Christmas – even though I approach it from a nonreligious standpoint. Technically, I am Jewish, but nonpracticing. Christmas has always been a huge thing for me. I love everything about it – the songs, the old movies. "It's a Wonderful Life" is my favorite movie of all time.
Q: So, as in past shows, you start from a point of personal obsession.
A: My work is so often a nod to that, and also, to nostalgia for the past – an idealized past, as we remember it from the music we heard and movies and shows we saw on TV growing up. And looking at the movie "Holiday Inn," I thought, wouldn't it be fun to do a holiday show? People know I wrack my brain trying to come up with a theme each year, and they know I love Christmas, so I've often been asked, "Why not do a Christmas show?" My answer always was, "Because we do my show in the summer." But when I was talking last year with Jason (Catastrophic artistic director Jason Nodler), and the idea of doing a Christmas show came up, I think we just finally hit that point of: "Why not?"
Q: Sure, lots of people throw Christmas in July parties. So how did you get started?
A: I called my writing partner, Patrick Reynolds (longtime co-author of the book and lyrics for her shows). We quickly decided we didn't want to limit the content to just Christmas, but to include other holidays. And immediately, the prospect unleashed so many satirical possibilities that within six email exchanges, we had about three-fourths of the ideas for the show.
Q: Why is this such fertile territory for comedy?
A: Because there are so many possibilities connected to our American holiday traditions – the commercialism and hypocrisy and strange rituals and annoying relatives. … People who know these shows know I spoof everything – myself included. So why not everything about holidays?
Q: How do you use the Christmas "hook" to get to the other holidays?
A: As always, we use the theme as a jumping-off point, a sort of story tying things together. In this case, we have Greg Dean playing the personification of Christmas. But after the big opening number, gushing over Christmas, members of the cast begin to point out problems. That this one is Jewish and this one is an atheist. That you can't say "holiday show" because that derives from "holy day." So we have to keep revising the idea till it's just A Secular Commemoration of an Unspecified Event. The union of lesser-known holidays appears, advocating for Arbor Day and Flag Day – that they deserve their chance. And so Christmas/Greg gets offended and just storms off. And that leaves us searching for a substitute holiday worthy of being the subject of the show.
Q: I see from the press materials, we're promised failed New Year's resolutions, feuding presidents for Presidents Day, a bitter and jaded Cupid for Valentine's Day, dancing skeletons for Halloween – even "twerking Easter bunnies."
A: The show is equally irreverent to all holidays.
Q: Since it's your holiday show, can Rose come to this one?
A: No, we want to point out that it is not for kids. In my own work, I've been getting more and more … well, rude. It's not exactly an early John Waters movie, but there are elements of the crass and raunchy. Put it this way, if people see the title and think of skipping the show because they hate Christmas – well, those people probably would love it.
'A Very Tamarie Christmas'
When: Opens Friday, July 18; 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays through Aug. 30
Where: Catastrophic Theatre, 1119 East Freeway
Tickets: All tickets are Pay-What-You-Can; 713-522-2723, catastrophictheatre.com