`Christmas Revels’ banish seasonal darkness

Reconnecting to what the holiday season actually means is a difficult thing to do amid the noise of our busy world. It’s especially hard this year in a country drowning in bad news, bankruptcy and a staggering unemployment rate.

But there’s a light in the darkness. Literally.

Oakland-based California Revels’ annual production, The Christmas Revels, has spent the last 20-plus years blurring religious and cultural boundaries to explore holiday and winter solstice celebrations from around the world and through the ages.

This year’s production, directed by David Parr, a Revels veteran for the last 18 years, harks back to Medieval England for The King and the Fool. Set in an ancient castle, the king settles in for a night of holiday entertainment from his court, his troubadour and from his court jester, played by veteran Bay Area clown Geoff Hoyle. There’s also an appearance by the Black Knight, who challenges the king to combat. Like winter, the king is vanquished by the Dark Knight, but he comes to life again, just like the spring.

“What we do, of course, is re-create the way people have celebrated human life, the changing of the seasons and deeper values through the years,” director Parr says. “Every year it’s like opening a new treasure chest, exploring a different culture and a different time period. Each reveals itself to us in ways that are incredibly stimulating.”

The fact that this year’s show has political overtones – a country subsumed in darkness finds its way to enlightened leadership – isn’t exactly accidental.

“I didn’t want to make the show overly political,” Parr says, “but I knew the cycle of leadership would resonate with the audience.”

This is an epic production filled with music, dance, storytelling and spectacle spilling out across the vast performance space at Oakland’s Scottish Rite Theater. There’s an adult chorus of 45, a children’s chorus of 15. Add in seven teenagers, a brass quintet, eight Morris dancers and assorted professional musicians and you’ve got quite a crowd – a talented crowd.

Parr, who appears in the show as the king and reads the poem “The Shortest Day,” last directed a version of The King and the Fool in 1995, but he says this year’s version is more focused. He adds that associate music director Shira Kammen, who plays the vielle and the hurdy gurdy in the show, has created arrangements for some remarkable Medieval music.

And of course, there’s Hoyle as the jester – a tour-de-force performance that automatically makes the show worth seeing.

“I know it sounds like hyperbole, but working with Geoff is sheer joy,” Parr says. “He’s the most unassuming, hardworking, professional, disciplined genius it has ever been my pleasure to work with. Other than that, though, it’s sheer hell. He’s like the football star who lifts the team around him.”

The notion of death runs through much Medieval song and storytelling, including one bit, called Danse Macabre, when Hoyle’s jester dances with a skeleton.

“They had an interesting relationship with death then,” Parr says. “Death was all around them, constant and ongoing. Families riddled with it, plagues came along periodically to wipe everybody out. As a result, they were preoccupied with man’s short time on earth, the importance of that experience and what happens next. There’s a wonderful song, `Witerly What This World Was,” which takes its lyrics from a longer poem about how life is but a fleeting dream and man is simply a tourist touring through life.”

Like any arts group producing work in this tricky economic climate, Parr says he’s nervous about ticket sales and all that, but he says there’s something more powerful at work.

“Hope is resonating this year,” he says. “This year’s show is all about home, sometimes literally, sometimes less explicitly. But when we come together and experience each other in that kind of positive context, it’s easy to be hopeful and to look beyond our present circumstances. Downturns are temporary. Tough times are there to be worked through. It’s the coming together and community that gives us hope to do that.”


The Christmas Revels open Friday, Dec. 12 and continue through Dec. 21 at the Scottish Rite Theater, 1547 Lakeside Drive, Oakland. Tickets are $15-$50. Call 510-452-8800 or visit www.calrevels.org.

2 thoughts on “`Christmas Revels’ banish seasonal darkness

  1. Pingback: Best X-Mas For You » Blog Archive » Chad Jones’ Theater Dogs » `Christmas Revels’ banish seasonal darkness

  2. I am a school teacher in a school in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and I am looking forthe wizard of oz adapted for a play for small children .Anything willdo to get ideas foreasy costumes and dialogue for kids.Thanks

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