Trust Silk Road Rising to make its very first holiday show – Christmas at Christine’s -- not only multi-cultural but free of schmaltz and glitter too. Directed by J.R. Sullivan, Christine Bunuan’s 90-minute meander through her own Christmases Past nudges her audience towards a more meaningful Christmas Present. Bunuan, a Filipino American actress married to a Jewish American actor, offers up a cabaret-style pastiche of songs, snapshots, chit-chat and reflections about her favorite holiday.
A personal touch
The one-woman show is somewhat disjointed; Bunuan is a vibrant performer, not a skilled storyteller. But her hodgepodge is so personal that the bumpy style eventually becomes part of the fun. With no performer in sight as the opening lights come up on Silk Road Rising’s intimate stage, music director/accompanist Ryan Brewster stalls with a few bars of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” Finally, late-running Bunuan bursts onstage, laden with shopping bags and plenty of adrenaline. She is then interrupted by a desperate call from her out-of-town mother who can’t remember her email password. Midway through the show, Bunuan invites a visiting friend to sing an exquisite rendition of “Oh Holy Night.” Like so much else that happens onstage, the reunion of these actresses is palpably joyful.
Many families make the season
Family bonds are critical to this Chicago-based actress, whether it’s her close-knit Catholic Filipino kin, beloved husband Sean or the cast of a show. Touchingly, she describes her parents who arrived from the Philippines with a mere $500 and used a rolling TV cart as a crib for their infant daughter. Christmas memories, sometimes enhanced by projected photos, do not include lavish presents or decor; instead they are anecdotes of family and friends with deep connections. When Bunuan sings the Tagalog song, “Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit,” she reinforces the unifying impact of Christmas carols in any language.
Bunuan demonstrates her affection for Sean’s Jewish heritage by filling a Hanukkah menorah with candles and gamely chanting the Hebrew blessing, an annual ritual in their home. Bunuan shares another holiday tradition -- a backstage potluck meal between matinee and evening performances of Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol. One year, she explains, Tiny Tim ate far too much and later “tossed his cookies” at the Cratchits’ dinner table onstage.
Petit, buoyant and charismatic, Bunuan delivers a topnotch performance. Brewster’s accompaniment is fluid and precise. Yeaji Kim’s festive set – suggesting a contemporary condo dressed for Christmas – leaves Bunuan enough room to maneuver freely. At times, Christmas at Christine’s rambling format wears thin. Ultimately, however, the show makes its case: the holiday season is about relationships. When she invites everyone to join her in “Silent Night,” she’s built such a strong bond with her audience that the response is immediate. Hearing Silk Road Rising’s small theatre swell with voices, Bunuan is full of unexpected emotion – and so are we.
Recommended for: people of all ages and faiths who want to celebrate the season
Not recommended for: people with Grinch and Scrooge-type attitudes
Now through December 23
Thursday at 7:30 pm
Friday at 8:00 pm
Saturday at 4:00 and 8:00 pm
Sunday at 4:00 pm
Added performances: December 20 & 21 at 7:30 pm
Silk Road Rising
77 W. Washington St., Chicago
$8 discount parking at Self Park, 230 W. Washington St. (get voucher at box office)
Regular - $25
Students - $15
(312) 857-1234 x201
Photos: Crimson Cat Studios
About the Author
Susan Lieberman is a playwright, journalist and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. Her Jeff-winning play Arrangement for Two Violas will be published by Chicago Dramaworks in spring 2017.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.