TheaterMania Logo

Dibble Does Christmas in New York!

A hard-working cast can't salvage this ill-conceived stage version of the popular radio show. logo
Mark Setlock
in Dibble Does Christmas in New York!
(© MaryRose Devine of Devine Designs)
Dibble Does Christmas in New York! is Jerry Robbins' stage version of his popular XM radio enterprise, The New Dibble Show. But someone should have told Robbins that just because Robert Altman brought The Prairie Home Companion to the screen doesn't mean it was an inspired idea to bring a spin on his show to the stage.

The eponymous Dibble (played here by Mark Setlock) is a three-foot-three-inch Scrooge-like figure who has his own Mayhem, Massachusetts radio show on which he interacts regularly with a handful of local characters as well as with frenetic sound-effects man Wilbur (Barrett Hall). The reason Dibble, who wears a top hat and a super-sized red tie, is in the Big Apple for this edition of his program is to find the perfect Christmas tree.

That search manages to include Mayor Bloomberg (also Hall) and gets predictably around to Rockefeller Center's seasonal evergreen for a chainsaw incident. During the second act, the Mayhem natives converge on Macy's to return unusable Christmas presents Dibble has given them. The twist here is that Dibble has disguised himself as the exchange-counter clerk.

Everyone in the seven-member cast works hard -- none harder than Hall in the cluttered sound-effects corner -- but there's no way any of them can slap life into such moribund jokes such as this one: Jake (William Jackson Harper) says of Dibble, "He's not in his right mind," Then Westbrook Ahern (E. C. 'Gene' Kelly), who's Dibble's announcer, says, "He's in his left mind." Finally, Dibble replies, "I am not in my left mind! I'm a Republican."

The good news for the cast is that because they're supposedly recreating the look and sound of a radio show, everyone gets to read the script rather than memorize it. That has to be an enormous relief for Setlock (who seems only partially committed to his role), not to mention Hall, Harper, and Kelly, as well as Stephen P. Brumble Jr. as brogue-talking Officer O'Brady, Julie Wilder as flat-voweled diner-owner Rita, and Sarah Ecton-Luttrell as uppity South Sea Island Girl official Penelope Parsnip.

Further muddying the enterprise, Robbins and director Drew DeCorleto aren't able to settle on the period during which the show takes place. They seem to be after a 1940's-style atmosphere, but they're inconsistent about it. For example, Ahern sports an appropriate double-breasted, wide-lapel suit and Ecton-Luttrell is all gotten up in a plastic hula skirt and a Stone Marten fur, yet some of the language, the introduction of the Bloomberg character, and a reference to cell phones are definitely anachronistic.

Dibble Does Christmas in New York! is clearly meant to recall classic radio gang comedies like Allen's Alley, Duffy's Tavern, and Fibber McGee and Molly. Sadly, it doesn't pay tribute to them as much as entirely miss the tenor of their down-home humor, nor does Robbins replace it with contemporary satiric flair.

Tagged in this Story