By Joseph Hurley
A BOGUS CHRISTMAS. Starring Frank Bogues. At the Duplex Cabaret Theatre. Through Dec. 23.
In Frank Bogues’s 60-minute memoir of an Irish-Catholic family Christmas in Omaha in the early 1970s, when the author and performer was 6 years old, a pair of Fire Starter jumper cables, $35 at the local Sears outlet, serve as a kind of holiday offering for a "300-pound Mobil man" who may or may not actually be a Mid-Western Santa Claus.
"A Bogus Christmas Story," which is being performed through Dec. 23 at the Duplex Cabaret Theatre just off Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village, will never replace Dylan Thomas’ "A Child’s Christmas in Wales" as an eloquent evocation of a writer’s boyhood holiday celebration, but it has its merits.
Most of its strong points are in the area of recognizability and, to a limited extent, universality. Frank Bogues, youngest of three sons of a Belfast-born father and an Irish-American mother, wasn’t the only 6-year-old in the American Heartland in around 1971 who dreamed of finding "a red-runnered American Eagle" sled under the tree on Christmas morning.
He’s also not the only boy who alternately adored and feared his older siblings, even as they tormented and tutored him in approximately equal measure. That much-longed-for sled, a genuine luxury extended to a boy in a family for whom poverty lurked just around the corner, functions, in its modest way, much as another, similar boyhood possession, the immortal "Rosebud" did in Orson Welles’s great "Citizen Kane."
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"A Bogus Christmas Story," modest in conception and execution, tells a simple tale of a boyhood outing that, fueled by a half-pint bottle of peppermint schnapps, nearly ends in disaster at a local hill the neighborhood youngsters refer to, with a shiver of delight and fear, as "sledder’s grave."
Bogues recollections have the virtue of honest and accurate perception, down to the battered 1963 sky blue Ford Fairmont, unreliable in the extreme, on which the family depended for transportation. The old vehicle’s skittishness, in fact, motivates much of the plot of the simple narrative spun by the likable performer, a one time NYU film school student.
He remembers the can of Alpo the family dog, Kelly, received as a Christmas gift, along with a large rawhide chew, both of which he shows his audience. He evokes the beloved sled, with its three sturdy "oaken planks" and its steel frame, and its scarlet runners and handlebars that, to the performer’s sorrow, lacked the gift of flexibility.
Bogues’s Roman Catholic schooling enters the mix as he imagines himself as a kind of "sledding Jesus," an image he invokes with a tiny model that briefly skims the space above his hearers’ heads in the comfortable, brick-lined Duplex space.
His rememberings of his family life are simple and direct. "We weren’t the Waltons," he admits, "and I wasn’t John Boy."
As a performer, Bogues seems not quite to have ingested the old less-is-more maxim. He works up an incredible sweat recounting stories and anecdotes for the benefit of an audience seated, for the most part, only a few feet away.
The show as a whole might benefit considerably if Bogues tried telling his tale to his listeners as if they were together in the same small space.
"A Bogus Christmas Story" lacks the sophistication, not to mention the wit and the malice, that characterized David Sedaris’s "The Santaland Diaries," which had a pre-Christmas run at the Atlantic Theater a year.
"A Bogus Christmas Story" ends its run tonight, Dec. 23, at 7 p.m.