Tir Na’s ‘Return Of The Winemaker’ Puts Dark (And Hilarious) Spin on Christmas (4 Stars)


RETURN OF THE WINEMAKER: AN IRISH CHRISTMAS COMEDY – Written by Bernard McMullan; Directed by Carmel O’Reilly; Presented by Tir Na Productions at Davis Square Theatre, 255 Elm Street, Somerville through December 20.

If you’re looking for something a little less sentimental than say, “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Carol” for your holiday theater fare, but aren’t quite ready to go full tilt and see the Gold Dust Orphans “Little Orphan Tranny Christmas” (all three of which I look forward to seeing, by the way), you might want to head over to Davis Square to see “Return Of The Winemaker”, Tir Na Productions’ insanely irreverent Irish comedy.

The second coming has already transpired – sorry Seventh-day Adventists – and apparently it happened in 1975. For his latest visit, Jesus decided to bypass the Middle East and head directly for what a select group of Northern Europeans like to refer to as “God’s Country” (Ireland), or more specifically, Ballygoura in County Galway. But instead of a manger, the son of God has entered the world and spent his first night on earth in – where else given that it’s an Irish comedy – a pub. That’s where he meets his new adoptive parents (played warmly by Nancy Carroll and with tortured wit by Tir Na artistic director Colin Hammell), after God and his hot blonde wife Marilyn (also played by Carroll) dropped off the holy bundle of joy and split back to heaven.

We see a brief montage of Jesus growing up (including a cute scene where his father reprimands Jesus for lying when he tells him that he took the shortcut home from school by walking across the lake) before settling into the present, where Jesus is a bit of an underachiever. He isn’t healing the sick or helping the poor this time around, instead his opportunistic father has capitalized on his ability to turn water into wine, and Dad’s making a pretty penny off of his son’s labor. But there’s trouble in heaven, as God (who is – as many have suspected – an Elvis impersonator) is slipping into an advanced state of dementia, and Marilyn wants Jesus to come home to help her take care of his “real” Dad. This doesn’t sit well with his earthly father or the townspeople of Ballygoura, who don’t want to give up their source of income and booze, respectively.

The balance of the play is the tug of war between Marilyn and Earth Dad to see if Jesus stays or goes,
and there’s a hilarious town meeting (where Caroll plays an utterly hammered nun) that is the comedic highlight of the evening, as the townsfolk try to come up with a devious plot to keep Jesus on earth and the wine flowing. And while “Winemaker” isn’t a musical per se, it does have a lot of very funny musical sequences, mostly performed by God (who has lost the ability to speak but can still remember the words to songs) rocking out. The set for the production is pretty spare, with few props and minimal costumes (except for God’s vintage Elvis jumpsuit – right out of 1970 Vegas), but this production isn’t about costumes and scenery, it’s about script and performances – both of which are pretty solid.

Bernard McMullan’s script is decidedly Irish, and it’s a brutally funny piece of work. The performances, led by Carroll’s three characters, are also first-rate. Colin Hammell is a scream as the tight-fisted and manipulative father, and Stephen Russell as God is a gifted entertainer with guitar in hand and genuinely touching when he conveys God’s struggles with his dementia. Derry Woodhouse is a gem as the somewhat dim and immature Jesus, in a performance that is somewhat reminiscent of his role of Patsy in last summer’s “The New Electric Ballroom,” at Gloucester Stage.

So if you’re looking for an entertaining Christmas show without all the schmaltz, head over to Davis Square for a rollicking good time. For more info, go to: