The Hub’s black box theatre offers an intimate experience, magnified in Wish List’s vanishing of a fourth wall.
The three performers – Rose McConnell, Katie Jeffries, and Sasha Olinick – open the holiday show casually, so that it is hard to pinpoint exactly where it begins. McConnell walks onstage as the audience is still coming in, tests the instruments, and offers introductory banter about the holidays. When she pulls a string of lights from a box and determines that it’s too tangled to use, we are unsure whether this is scripted or not. The actors explain at the top of the show that, while this is a play, they are playing themselves.
Wish List incorporates a broad catalogue of works, ranging from Ogden Nash’s poem “Jacob Dawes” to a Hanukkah-inspired riff on Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” to some more traditional holiday fixtures, like “Silent Night” and “The Polar Express.” Some of the numbers have been cleverly reworked: we see a mashup of “My Favorite Things” and “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” as well as a role-reversed performance of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
These numbers are where the show really shines. In between, the conversation reverts back to that liminal, maybe-scripted-maybe-not place as at the opening, which feels less confident and at times slightly awkward.
It should be said that there’s no straightforward narrative here. Occasionally the house lights rise and the cast invites the audience to participate in a game or a song, or respond to a question. The evening I was there, young children seemed especially responsive to these moments, while the adults required more coaxing.
December 11 – December 20, 2015
The Hub Theatre
at John Swayze Theatre
9431 Silver King Ct
Fairfax, VA 22031
1 hour, 20 minutes
Fridays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
The accompaniment, for the most part, is provided by McConnell, who alternates between keyboard, guitar, and miscellaneous instruments as needed from one number to the next. The cast’s only male (and Jew), Olinick makes great use of his vocal range, whether in recitations or songs. Jeffries is a spirited performer whose animated expressions grant energy to the ensemble.
The three performers compliment each other well, though their relationship remains unclear. In fact, until Jeffries and Olinick perform “Fairytale of New York” together, with staging to bring the song’s romantic lyrics to life, the composition of the ensemble seems to suggest a family – with McConnell and Olinick as the parents, and younger Jeffries as the daughter.
The evening takes a more somber tone toward the end, when the cast reads off moments of hope in the face of crippling adversity. Olinick then performed a heartfelt rendition of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah.” The transition back into pep and holiday cheer is abrupt, and the evening comes to an end with some remnant sadness and poignancy still lingering in the background.
Though it has some rough edges, Wish List offers an entertaining, family-friendly take on the holidays, with talented performers and a lot of heart.
Wish List . A Hub Company Collaboration . Directed by Kelsey Mesa . Featuring Rose McConnell, Katie Jeffries, and Sasha Olinick . Produced by Hub Theatre . Reviewed by Jennifer Clements.