December 9, 2002.By Dominic P. Papatola, Pioneer Press.
If you don’t have a mother like Carole Petersen, you surely know one. She’s the kind of chipper, always-enthusiastic, gently chiding maternal figure you find in movies and Hallmark cards.
In short, she’s the kind of parent we all make fun of. And Tod Petersen has carved out a tidy little holiday niche poking 75 minutes of loving fun at his mother in a revue called “A Christmas Carole Petersen.”
This is Petersen’s third year running the show, which, judging from a standing-room audience during Saturday’s opening at the Loring Playhouse, has attracted a significant following. And it’s not hard to see why: Petersen’s remembrances of growing up on “the only ethnically diverse block in Mankato” are funny and touching and as homey as a chocolate-chip cookie fresh from the over.
This is just the kind of stuff that you can embellish, but you can’t make up. Using his own memory and his mother’s paper trail from 40-some years of holiday newsletters, Petersen recreates, for instance, his mother’s astonishment at attending the Guthrie’s “Christmas Carol” and seeing “Bob Marley’s ghost” emerge from the bowels of the stage.
He recalls the “papier-mache or plaster of Paris – one of those crafts” Nativity set that’s been used for so many years that the baby Jesus’ face is gone. And he remembers gathering around the family’s artificial Christmas tree to open presents from, as his mother says with prim pride, “S-A-N-T-A.”
Any of us who have ever imitated our moms for the sake of a joke – and I would imagine that includes most of us – will recognize Petersen’s shtick. He gives poor Carole a high, saccharine voice, rolling eyes, a pursed mouth, and hands that come right off the apron strings to punctuate a sentiment with a finger laid delicately aside the cheek.
But Petersen has an acutely keen ear for his own material, and with director Peter Rothstein, he’s paced it well. All the goofy family stories are counterbalanced with the occasional, more clear-eyed tale of Christmases away from home – some vocational, some intentional. It’s an effective and very pleasing mixture.
Interspersed among the tales and observations are 15 musical meditations on Christmas, some kitschy (“Feliz Navidad”), some traditional (“I’ll be Home for Christmas”), some heart-rending (“After the Holidays”) and some-laugh-out-loud funny (“Surabaya Santa”).
Most of these are delivered by a trio called the Carolettes – Dieter Bierbrauer, Sara Rene Martin and Karen J. Weber. With the able support of Denise Prosek on the piano, all do well, though the show would improve a notch if the trio could inject more of the kind of personality that martin delivers on the bitingly funny “Surabaya Santa.”
But that's a nit. “A Christmas Carole Petersen” is a fine and eminently worthwhile entertainment for the holiday season; it’s a warm-hearted kind of show that finds the fusion and the fission of the nuclear family.